Labels on products and goods inform you about the characteristics of the product or item. For example, labels on food inform you about the nutritional value and weight of the food. Labels on clothing inform you about the size of the garment, what it is made of etc. Information on labels allows you to make an informed choice about what you are intending to buy. There are rules in Ireland and the EU regarding labels on products. These rules mainly relate to textiles and footwear although other areas are also covered. You can find information on the rules for the labelling of food on the EU Commission's website and the Food Safety Authority's website.
Manufacturers of products and goods must comply with the laws on labelling. While the law sets down some minimum requirements, there is nothing to prevent additional information being given on labels, so long as it is true. For example, instructions on how to cook or serve food items are not required. Most food labels carry this information even though they are not required.
There is no legal requirement for producers of non-food items for example, clothing, etc.) to show the country of origin on the label. This means the manufacturer is not obliged to state that an item was made in Ireland or abroad. Labels instructing you how to wash and maintain items may be desirable on an item but are not required by law. In other words, manufacturers are not obliged to put washing or any maintenance instructions on goods, but they can if they wish.
When you are shopping, check the item you are buying is correctly labelled. Be aware that, sometimes, labels can be misleading. For example, just because the packaging is environmentally friendly does not mean that a product is better for the environment. In that case, you should look for a label stating a product is, for example, ‘made from recycled material’.
Items marked 'Fairtrade' must meet international Fairtrade standards which are set by the international certification body Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO). These standards are agreed with key participants in the Fairtrade scheme, including producers themselves and labelling organisations such as Fairtrade Ireland. If you find items marked Fairtrade that you feel are misleading, get in touch with Fairtrade Ireland.
Since July 2010 the EU organic logo is obligatory for all organic pre-packaged food products within the European Union. It may also be used for non-pre-packaged organic goods produced within the EU or organic products imported from third countries. Each EU member state has established an inspection system and designated a number of public authorities and/or approved private inspection bodies to carry out the inspection and certification of organic production. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has approved five certification bodies to carry out this work in Ireland, that is, Institute of Marketecology (IMO), Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA), Organic Trust Limited, BDAA-Demeter UK and Global Trust Certification Limited. All products labelled as organic must bear the name of the last operator who has handled the product, for example, the producer, the processor or the distributor and the name or code number of their inspection body. If you find items marked organic you feel are misleading, get in touch with these organisations for guidance.
The CE label on a product is a white rectangular label with the letters CE in black lettering. The CE label means that the product conforms with all health, safety and environmental protection standards of the European Union laid down in the relevant sectorial or vertical directives. Not all products are covered by the CE marking.
CE labelling was introduced in the EU to standardise labelling regulations across the member states. The mark is required on a wide range of products. Examples range from electrical equipment, refrigerators and gas water heaters to helmets, toys and heart pacemakers. View more information on the CE label here.
Textile products for sale in the EU should be labelled by reference to their fibre content whenever they are put onto the market for production or commercial purposes. This law is set down in the European Union (Textile Fibre Names and Related Labelling and Marking of the Fibre Composition of Textile Products) Regulations 2012 (SI 142 of 2012). These Regulations were made to give effect to EU Regulation 1007/2011 as amended by EU Regulation No. 286/2012. These Regulations apply to products entirely made of textile fibres such as clothes, curtains or bed linen. It also applies to products containing at least 80% textile components such as furniture, umbrella and sunshade coverings, floor coverings, mattresses and camping goods, the warm linings of footwear, gloves, mittens and mitts. There is no legal obligation to show care labels, however, if these are shown they must be accurate.
In many instances the labels on textiles must show the percentages of materials contained in the item. For example, clothing may be labelled ‘100% cotton’ or ‘50% wool, 50% acrylic’. Again, these labels tell you more about the product and can inform your decision about purchasing or not.
There are also important rules regarding how various parts of footwear are labelled. These labels often appear as stickers on the base of the footwear or on the shoebox or inside the footwear. The information about what the footwear is made of must be conveyed by means of agreed pictures or symbols or text. The European Communities (Labelling of Footwear) Regulations 1996 (SI 63 of 1996) sets down the rules about footwear labels. It gave effect to EU Directive 94/11/EC.
The law sets out how the various parts of the footwear (that is, the upper part, lining, outer-sole) item must be labelled. Information must be given about the material which makes up at least 80 % of the surface area of the upper, the lining and insole sock of the footwear article, and at least 80 % of the volume of the outer-sole.
If no one material accounts for at least 80 % of the footwear, the label must state the two principal materials the footwear is made of (for example, 20% rubber, 60% leather, etc.).
As the aim of both the above laws is to provide information, all labels must be legible. The manufacturer or their authorised agent in the European Union is responsible for supplying the labels and for the accuracy of the information contained in them.
The legal obligations on producers and traders relating to textile and footwear labelling are set out in the above named Regulations.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.