UK competition watchdog to investigate fashion retailers over greenwashing

The UK’s competition watchdog has launched investigations into three fashion brands over their eco-friendliness and sustainability claims, following a review of claims of greenwashing in the clothing industry.

The Competition and Markets Authority said on Friday it was investigating claims made by Asos, Boohoo and Asda’s George brand about the green nature of their fashion products, including clothing, shoes and accessories.

The investigation was sparked by a CMA review in January that it said had “identified concerns about potentially misleading green claims” by some UK fashion retailers.

“These included a number of companies giving the impression that their products were ‘sustainable’ or better for the environment – for example making sweeping claims about using recycled materials in new clothing – with little or no information about with the basis for those claims. or exactly what products they were related to,” the watchdog said.

The CMA said the eco-friendly language used by retailers was “too broad and vague and could give the impression that clothing collections – such as ‘responsible editing’ from Asos, Boohoo’s current ‘Ready to future’ and ‘George for Good’ — are more environmentally sustainable than they really are”.

Asos said it would co-operate with the CMA’s investigation, adding that it was “committed to playing its part in making fashion more sustainable”. Boohoo also said it was “committed to providing its customers with accurate information on the products they buy”.

Asda said it ensured that claims made about sustainability “can be supported by industry accreditations”.

“We are ready and willing to answer any questions the CMA has about our George for Good range and welcome further work by the CMA to ensure that the sustainability claims made by the fashion industry as a whole are strong and clear,” he said.

All three retailers have signed up to Textiles 2030, an initiative coordinated by the UK Waste and Resources Action Programme, to accelerate moves towards greater sustainability in fashion.

Fashion, especially the cheaper part of the fast fashion business, has faced increasing scrutiny regarding the environmental impact of its products. Globally, the industry is thought to be responsible for more carbon emissions than aviation and transport combined, as the rush to produce cheaper clothes encourages overconsumption.

Wrap has estimated that one kilogram of cotton – roughly equivalent to a T-shirt and a pair of jeans – requires up to 20,000 liters of water to produce, straining ecosystems in the poorest countries.

Clothing is technically difficult and often uneconomical to recycle, and recycling rates are very poor – a 2019 report by the UK parliament’s environmental audit committee estimated that around 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ended up in landfill each year .

Retailers have responded by launching ranges that often feature organically grown cotton and reduced water use. Some, including Asos, have opened online marketplaces for used clothes or set up in-store collection points for unwanted clothing.

But they’ve also acknowledged that environmental rhetoric among young consumers, in particular, doesn’t translate into buying habits. A survey by German fashion platform Zalando last year found that only 23 percent of respondents rated sustainability high in their motivations to buy – compared to four-fifths who were influenced by price and fit.

The CMA investigation follows a recent reprimand for supermarket group Tesco over claims it made about the environmental credentials of meat-free foods. The Advertising Standards Authority said the food retailer could not provide any evidence about the products in its plant-based chef range and told it not to make environmental claims “unless they had sufficient evidence to back it up”. [them]”.

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