The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is to crack down on the potentially “vague” eco-friendly and sustainability claims made by clothing retailers in the UK.
It has announced today that it will be “scrutinising” ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda about their fashion products including clothing, footwear, and accessories.
But the watchdog added a warning to all retailers, and their suppliers and garment decorators, to “look at your own practices and make sure they are in line with the law”.
The move comes as part of its ongoing investigation into potential “greenwashing” and follows concerns around the way the companies’ products are marketed to customers as being eco-friendly.
The CMA will look into whether the statements and language used by the retailers are “too broad and vague” and may create the impression that clothing collections are more environmentally sustainable than they actually are. Collections to be studied include “Responsible edit” from ASOS, Boohoo’s current “Ready for the Future” range, and “George for Good”.
It will look into the criteria used by some of these businesses to decide which products to include in these collections and whether they may be lower than customers might reasonably expect from their descriptions and overall presentation. For example, some products may contain as little as 20% recycled fabric.
It will also check if any statements made by the companies about fabric accreditation schemes and standards are potentially misleading such as a lack of clarity about whether the accreditation applies to particular garments or to the company’s wider practices.
The CMA is concerned that there is a lack of information provided to customers about products included in any of the companies’ eco ranges, such as missing information about what the fabric is made from.
Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA, said: “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 has written to the three firms outlining its concerns and will use its information gathering powers to obtain evidence to progress its investigation. How the review develops will depend on the CMA’s assessment of the evidence before it.
Possible outcomes include securing undertakings from the companies to change the way they operate, taking the firms to court, or closing the case without further action.
The CMA stressed that it was at the initial stage of its investigation and that today’s announcement should not be used to infer that any of the businesses under investigation had broken consumer protection law.
The move comes after the CMA published its Green Claims Code in September last year. The code aims to help businesses including garment decorators and suppliers to understand how to communicate their green credentials while avoiding the risk of misleading their customers.
The key piece of consumer protection legislation relevant to the CMA’s Green Claims Code, and to the enforcement cases announced today, is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).
The CPRs contain a general prohibition against unfair commercial practices and specific prohibitions against misleading actions and misleading omissions.
The CMA’s wider investigation into misleading environmental claims is ongoing and other sectors will come under review in due course.
ASOS sells fashion items through the website ASOS.com. George at Asda sells fashion items online at direct.asda.com/george and in store. Boohoo sells fashion items through a number of websites, including Boohoo.com, BoohooMan.com, DorothyPerkins.com, Oasisfashion.com and PrettyLittleThing.com.