Examining the Inadequacy of Self-Regulation in Fashion and Pathways to Future Policy Formulation

Praise has often been given to self-regulation and voluntary guidelines for their role in propelling the fashion industry towards ethical and sustainable practices. However, these measures have also been subjected to scrutiny and critique.

The primary concerns stem from the absence of strong enforcement structures and the inconsistent level of commitment and execution across different brands and nations. This article will delve into these problems and suggest possible actions to introduce effective policies for a truly ethical and sustainable fashion industry.

Challenges with Self-Regulation and Voluntary Guidelines

Non-Existent Enforcement and Compliance: Being voluntary in nature, these standards rely heavily on the altruism and dedication of the participating companies. While some businesses may strictly adhere to these standards, others might choose not to, resulting in significant inconsistency within the industry. Greenwashing: With the growing consumer appetite for sustainable fashion, some brands might engage in greenwashing, i.e., making deceptive assertions about their environmental contributions. Without a universally accepted reporting standard across the industry, it becomes exceedingly difficult for consumers and stakeholders to differentiate between legitimate sustainable actions and greenwashing. Limited Resources: Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) might find it challenging to adopt and supervise self-regulatory measures due to their limited resources, placing them at a competitive disadvantage against larger corporations.

Future Courses of Action: Formulating and Enforcing Efficient Policy

Government Regulations: It is incumbent on governments globally to enforce regulations that demand transparency, sustainability, and fair labor practices in the fashion industry. Such regulations could establish a universal framework for the industry, thereby reducing the chances of greenwashing and non-compliance. International Collaboration: Given the international footprint of the fashion industry, collaboration across borders is vital. Nations should join hands to standardize regulations, ensure compliance, and enforce penalties for non-compliance. Industry-Wide Reporting System: A universally accepted reporting system would enable better monitoring and comparison of companies’ sustainable practices. This would encourage brands to enhance their sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, it would enable consumers to make informed choices, thereby increasing the demand for sustainable fashion. Support for SMEs: Both governments and industry organizations should offer financial and technical assistance to SMEs to help them adopt sustainable measures. This would level the playing field, fostering competition based on sustainability. Consumer Awareness: Policymakers, industry organizations, and brands must work together to educate consumers about the repercussions of their fashion preferences and ways to identify truly sustainable brands. A well-informed consumer base can stimulate demand for sustainable fashion, thus incentivizing brands to comply with sustainable practices.

A Successful Instance: The French “Anti-Waste” Law

The French “anti-waste” law implemented in 2020 serves as a good example of government regulation. This law prohibits the disposal of unsold non-food goods, including clothes, and mandates brands to either recycle, reuse, or donate unsold products. The law is legally binding, making it more effective than voluntary standards, and exemplifies the kind of robust governmental intervention needed to steer the fashion industry towards more sustainable practices.


Despite self-regulation and voluntary guidelines having a significant impact on promoting sustainability in the fashion industry, their shortcomings warrant stronger, more enforceable measures. The development of a truly ethical and sustainable fashion industry requires a mix of government regulations, international collaboration, industry-wide reporting, support for SMEs, and consumer awareness.