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NEW YORK – In recent weeks we have seen three natural fibres sectors – silk, alpaca wool and leather – request that the ‘score’ for their respective fibres is removed from the Higg Sustainability Index (MSI) of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Among other things, the three sectors claim Higg uses out of date LCAs and unfairly penalises their fibres, particularly compared to polyester. They also claim the SAC has not properly consulted them – or not consulted them at all – in the development of the respective Higg MSI scores for their fibres.

Presently, we have reached an impasse. The SAC has announced it will not alter its Higg MSI and the scores for leather, alpaca wool and silk will remain in place. In the meantime, the silk, alpaca and leather sectors are all refusing to let this issue rest, with each of them planning next steps.

So, what now? What options do they have? If they believe the Higg MSI is wrong, is there anything they can do about it? Is there any kind of legal action they can take against the SAC?

Apparel Insider decided to investigate this issue by talking to a legal expert in the apparel industry from the United States – where the San Francisco headquartered SAC is based.

Jeremy D. Richardson is a partner in the Litigation Practice Group and member of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at US law firm Freeborn & Peters LLP. With a background in fashion law, Jeremy works primarily with consumer product manufacturers and in particular the juvenile products industry.

He told us: “The first hurdle for any of these natural fibres industries is that they have to use science to show the Higg MSI is not an accurate or fair representation of their fibre.

“It seems to me this is a battle of science and the natural fibres industries may want to bring in their own experts to carry out an analysis into how Higg is – at present – calculating its fibre scores. It comes down to a question of where the truth lies.

“Once they have done that, and if they can use science to show that Higg is not an accurate measure of the environmental impact of natural fibres, there are several avenues open to them to challenge Higg in the US.

“The first of these is by lodging a case with the Federal Trade Commission which governs false advertising claims. They might ask the FTC to look at Higg with reference to green advertising regulations and recommend that they make a finding that Higg does not accurately represent natural fibres.

“The second option is the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.

This is the route companies often go down when they have a private dispute against a competitor which they believe to be making false advertising claims. The NAD can make rulings on such issues which can then be used in court proceedings.

“The final option would be a private lawsuit which may cite unfair business practices or false advertising claims. The statutes vary from state to state.”

We will be speaking to other legal experts on this issue for a special report in the November-December edition of Apparel Insider.

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