The European Commission intends to ban the use in apparel of hundreds of Cat. 1A and 1B carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic for reproduction substances (“CMRs”) within the next year. To do so, the Commission expects to use the so-called “fast-track” procedure to ban CMRs under Regulation 1907/2006 (“REACH Regulation”), instead of the standard procedure for prohibiting substances. Historically, the fast-track procedure has been reserved for mixtures that contain CMRs and are intended for the general public.  The Commission has indicated that its proposal to ban the use of CMRs in apparel is a “test-case” of its intention to also ban Cat. 1A and 1B CMRs in articles (i.e., objects) intended for consumers on a regular basis in the near future.  This fast-track procedure allows less scientific input from the European Chemicals Agency (“ECHA”) and industry, and the related restrictions would create significant barriers to international trade.

“Standard” vs. “Fast-Track” Procedure

Title VIII of the REACH Regulation empowers the European Commission to restrict the use in mixtures (e.g., inks, paints) and articles (e.g., apparel) of substances that pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.  Restricted substances are listed in Annex XVII of the Regulation, which is regularly updated.

There are two different procedures for adding new restrictions: the “regular” and the “fast-track” procedure. In both cases, the Commission proposes the restrictions, and its final proposal is then adopted through “comitology” (i.e., a process involving the input of Member States).  The road towards the final Commission proposal, however, is very different for each procedure:

  • Standard procedure: The standard procedure is generally highly regarded for the sound scientific input it gathers. Articles 69 – 73 of the REACH Regulation include important steps, such as ECHA’s or a Member State’s preparation of an Annex XV dossier analyzing the restrictions, assessments by the Agency’s Risk Assessment Committee (“RAC”) and Socio-Economic Assessment Committee (“SEAC”), and consultation of the Forum for Exchange of Information on Enforcement (“Forum”).
  • Fast-Track Procedure: Article 68(2) of the REACH Regulation, however, empowers the Commission to ban the use of substances that are classified as Cat. 1A or 1B CMRs in mixtures and articles that could be used by consumers without the preparation of a dossier, the opinions of the RAC and SEAC or the consultation of the Forum. As the Commission recognized in its Article 68(2) Paper of 2014, the legislation provides little to no guidance on the use of this procedure.

Indeed, the fast-track procedure was originally intended, and until now has been used solely, to restrict the use of mixtures intended for consumers that contain Cat. 1A or 1B CMRs in concentrations above specific thresholds. Entries 28 to 30 of Annex XVII contain the general ban for mixtures containing Cat. 1A and 1B CMRs, and the Commission has regularly updated them by amending their Appendixes.

The procedure was historically intended for mixtures due to the potential high exposure of consumers using them. In contrast, there is scientific uncertainty on the risk of exposure of consumers to CMRs contained in articles.  As the Commission recognizes in its Article 68(2) Paper, the “main difference between articles and substances and mixtures is that there might be cases where there is no or very limited possibility of exposure of consumers to a CMR substance contained in an article.

The Proposed CMR Restrictions

The Commission’s long term strategy is to use the REACH fast-track procedure to restrict the use of Cat. 1A and 1B CMRs in a broad range of consumer products. The upcoming ban in apparel is intended as a “test-case”.

Following concerns raised by the industry, the Commission recently announced that it intends to restrict the use of Cat. 1A and 1B CMRs in textiles in two phases. First, it will restrict CMRs in textiles that are in direct contact with the skin.  This concerns primarily apparel, but also products such as footwear and bed linen.  We understand that these restrictions could be adopted by spring or summer of 2017.

Second, the Commission will restrict Cat. 1A and 1B CMRs in textiles that are not in direct contact with the skin, such as accessories (e.g., buttons), floor coverings, and carpets.  The Commission will not start this second phase until it presents its final proposal for textiles that are in direct contact with the skin.

It is still unclear which Cat. 1A and 1B CMRs the Commission will target. Initially, it had proposed to restrict 286 CMRs.  The Commission should only restrict those substances for which there are validated detection and measurement methods.

Analysis of the Planned Restrictions

The Commission’s initial proposal to restrict no less than 286 CMRs in a wide category of textile products raises significant concerns. These include:

Duplication: Of the CMRs that the Commission intends to restrict under the fast-track procedure, several are already subject to other restrictions in the REACH Regulation. The resulting double bans or restrictions might create confusion and duplication. The Commission indicated last June that it is aware of this issue and that it “is committed to avoid double regulation for the same substance and use.”

  • Trade implications: Extensive restrictions could create unnecessary barriers to trade and violate the EU’s commitments under the Agreements of the World Trade Organization. The apparel industry is a global industry; a rapidly-imposed ban on CMRs in apparel may lead operators in this sector to temporarily or permanently stop marketing certain products in the EU.
  • Socio-economic impact: It is questionable whether the Commission has sufficiently considered the cost of compliance with the upcoming restrictions. Widespread and simultaneous restrictions may represent a significant burden for industry, including numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (“SMEs”), and increase the price of apparel for consumers.

Next Steps

What lies ahead? The Commission has agreed to gather additional expert input over the next few months.  This will include input from the Forum, ECHA, and a group of experts, including industry representatives.  Subsequently, the Commission will open its proposal for a public consultation, likely by the end of 2016 or early 2017.  Once this public consultation is closed, the Commission will adopt its final proposal.

Although much remains to be decided, it is clear that a ban of hundreds of CMRs in all skin contact textiles will significantly affect apparel and footwear companies that market their goods in the EU and EEA. In the mid-long term, the Commission’s plans will likely also have a significant impact on the wider global textile and consumer goods industry.

Roberto Yunquera Sehwani is a Stagiaire at Covington & Burling LLP and attends the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid