The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into whether sustainable claims from three online retailers amount to little more than greenwashing.
Its initial investigation is focused on Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda, but the CMA warns that it is looking more widely at the fashion sector – and others may also come under the microscope.
Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA, says: “People who want to ‘buy green’ should be able to do so confident that they aren’t being misled. Eco-friendly and sustainable products can play a role in tackling climate change, but only if they are genuine.
“We’ll be scrutinising green claims from Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda to see if they stack up. Should we find these companies are using misleading eco claims, we won’t hesitate to take enforcement action – through the courts if necessary.
“This is just the start of our work in this sector and all fashion companies should take note: look at your own practices and make sure they are in line with the law.”
The CMA says UK shoppers spend an estimated £54bn on clothing and footwear each year, a figure that’s expected to continue to grow. It cites estimates that fashion is responsible for between 2% and 8% of global carbon emissions and that more people are responding by trying to choose environmentally sustainable options. In return, more fashion businesses are making environmental claims. Its review aims to find out if those claims stack up.
How the CMA is investigating green claims
The CMA is initially looking at whether statements and collection names – such as Asos’ ‘responsible edit’, Boohoo’s ‘ready for the future’ and ‘George for good’ – are too broad and vague and might imply that products are more environmentally sustainable than they actually are.
It will also look at whether criteria for inclusion in such collections, such as only having 20% recycled fabric, are lower than customers might reasonably expect them to be from their overall descriptions and presentation. And it will consider if there is a lack of information provided to customers about products in eco ranges, such as omitting what the fabric is made from.
The CMA says that any statements about fabric accreditation schemes and standard have the potential to mislead. That may be the case, for example, if there is a lack of clarity about whether particular products are covered by accreditation.
It has written to the three firms with details of its concerns and will go on to gather evidence as its investigation progresses. As well as looking at Asos.com, direct.asda.com/george and George in-store sales, it will investigate Boohoo.com, BoohooMan.com, DorothyPerkins.com, OasisFashion.com and PrettyLittleThing.com.
The CMA’s wider investigation into misleading environmental claims continues, with other sectors due to come under review in the future.
The CMA published its Green Claims Code in September 2021, with guidance for businesses on how to communicate green credentials without the risk of misleading shoppers.
Asos and Boohoo both said in statements that they had noted the launch of the CMA investigation and that it would cooperate with it. Asos said it was “committed to playing its part in making fashion more sustainable, including providing clear and accurate information about its products”, while Boohoo said that its group is “committed to providing it customers with accurate information on the products they buy”. Both said they would not comment further at this stage.
An Asda spokesperson said: “We know how important it is that our customers can trust the claims we make about our products, which is why we ensure the statements we make can be supported by industry accreditations. We are ready and willing to answer any questions the CMA have about our George for Good range and welcome further work by the CMA to ensure the sustainability claims made by the fashion industry as a whole are robust and clear.”