A measuring tool used by clothing retailers and brands including Gildan to show their sustainability credentials has been “paused” after it was challenged by consumer watchdogs in Norway.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has announced that it is evaluating its Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) and Higg Brand and Retail Module (BRM) to “better understand how to substantiate product level claims with trusted and credible data”.
In the meantime, it said it would “pause” the consumer-facing aspects of the transparency programme globally which meant “temporarily removing the published Higg Index seal and scorecard from the participating online retail platforms”.
The Higg index, which assesses the environmental impact of the whole life cycle of each garment throughout the supply chain, is used by brands such as garment manufacturer Gildan Activewear and Craghoppers and retailers including H&M, Boohoo and Primark.
The SAC paused the use of the measuring tool after the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) queried the life cycle assessment data being used to support the consumer-facing environmental claims.
The SAC’s evaluation will include commissioning an independent third-party expert review of the Higg data and methodology. It added that it was already planning a review but the NCA complaint had “accelerated” the process.
Amina Razvi, chief executive of the SAC, said: “As an organisation focused on driving positive environmental change in the fashion industry, we take the notification from the NCA extremely seriously.
“It is critical we seek to understand how to improve this work and act urgently and decisively to ensure the changes that are needed both in the industry and at consumer level are accelerated, and not delayed by the lack of harmonised legislation and clear guidance from regulators.
“We know how important it is that our members and the wider industry have trust not just in our mission, purpose and approach, but also the data and insights that sit behind our tools.”
She added that the Higg MSI and other Higg Index tools were still active and available to all users on the Higg platform and would remain so during the review.
H&M today issued a statement supporting the benefits of the Higg BRM. For further transparency, it disclosed its BRM scores for the first time and is getting the scores verified by a third party, Bureau Veritas, to confirm their accuracy.
Although the NCA named H&M in its statement, it did not investigate the retailer’s data. However, it did investigate Norwegian outdoor brand Norrøna’s data and alleged that it was misleading to consumers and that the sustainability claims were unsubstantiated.
With more than 250 members, the SAC brings together over 50% of the apparel industry internationally, aiming for a common framework and approach to standardised data while also sharing knowledge and best practice.