Why is the Savon de Marseille or Marseille soap not always made in Marseille?

Published onJuly 2013

The Savon de Marseille (an olive oil based soap) is a very popular and famous washing soap in France, the image of which is attached to old soap factories based in Marseille (city in the South of France) and respectful of ancient industrial traditions.

In France, the Savon de Marseille can be found almost in every store with a hygiene department. But looking at the labels on the soaps makes one wonder for many of them are not made in Marseille and sometimes not even in France.

It may seem a bit complicated or misleading for the consumers but the reason for that is quite simple: the Savon de Marseille does not legally exist. More precisely there is no protected designation of origin or geographical indication for the Savon de Marseille.

The present legal framework does not make it possible to have geographical indications protected in connection with manufactured products but only in connection with agricultural products and foodstuffs (such as the most famous French wines).

But last June, during a debate at the French Senate (the upper chamber of French Congress), the French Ministry in charge of social and fair economy and consumption declared that soon would be created new measures to protect industrial and traditional products originating in a specific region and which possess a specific quality or reputation essentially attributable to that geographical origin.

Although said definition seems directly inspired by the definitions of both designations of origin and geographical indications set in Article 2 of Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 of 20 March 2006 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs, it seems to us that it would not be sufficient to reassure the few French soap factories campaigning for the creation of an official certification of their traditional methods.

Maybe that is why said factories decided to obtain protection of their own by filing French and Community trademark applications for Savon de Marseille in the name of the federation they created to defend their common industrial traditions and interests. But their task should not be easy judging by the number of already registered trademarks containing the name Savon de Marseille in France…

Anyway, France and other countries should really start creating new rules to protect their regional and traditional know-how because in today’s global economy such know-how and their designations are both potential commercial assets and open sources for free-riding.

© INSCRIPTA