Reed Smith Client Alerts

In response to a notable increase in demand for animal-free or ‘vegan’ non-food products, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) last month released new guidelines clarifying when retail products can be labelled as ‘vegan’. For example, clothing which does not generally include animal-derived materials (such as cotton shirts) should not be labelled as ‘vegan’, and animal-derived materials should play no part in the production of vegan-labelled products.

The demand for vegan products has spread to several other sectors, and providers wishing to obtain external recognition of the vegan nature of their products (both food and non-food) can apply for a certificate of registration from the Vegan Society.

Following the BRC guidance and obtaining a certificate of registration may be beneficial in convincing potential customers of a product’s vegan credentials and guarding against potential liability.

UK guidelines for vegan clothing

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), the United Kingdom’s main retailer trade association, released voluntary guidelines last month on labelling products as vegan. These guidelines state that:

  • It would not be compliant for a retailer to market products which are not traditionally made with animal-derived materials as vegan – for example, “a cotton t-shirt should not be labelled as ‘vegan’ as it is traditionally made from cotton”.
  • In the context of fashion and clothing, “‘vegan’ relates to the absence of animal-derived materials”, and a “vegan product” is “clothing, textiles, accessories, footwear, etc. that contains no animal-derived components”. As such, “classing a product as vegan not only rules out using leather, wool and natural silk (which comes from the silkworm), but also many glues, dyes, and chemicals derived from animals”, and retailers must remove obvious animal-derived materials from a product’s supply chain – including both obvious uses, such as making shoes with animal skin, and less obvious areas, such as eliminating dyes, pigments and inks made from beetles; wax (often found in water-resistant items); and casein glue, which uses milk proteins – in order to be able to label it as vegan.
  • Retailers should not claim a product is sustainable simply because it is vegan, since “sustainable will mean different things depending on the issue analysed”.

It should be noted that these guidelines are voluntary and carry no legal force. Given how recently they have been published, it is also difficult to judge whether take-up of these guidelines will be widespread. However, as they have been issued by the main UK retail trade association, as a form of quality assurance for the purpose of assuring the growing number of consumers seeking vegan products, it is likely that retailers will be guided by them.