The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into three fashion brands over their ‘green’ claims. The three fashion brands being investigated by the CMA for greenwashing include the supermarket Asda, as well as the online fashion brands, ASOS and Boohoo.


The CMA will look at the extent to which green claims made by each of the companies can be classed as ‘misleading’. If their green claims are found to have been misleading then the CMA have made it clear that they won’t hesitate to take action, including through the courts if necessary.


Keep reading the article to learn more about greenwashing, and the reasons for the investigation against these companies.


Greenwashing in the fashion industry


Greenwashing is used by companies across various sectors as a way of presenting themselves as being environmentally friendly, often by companies which have a negative impact on the environment in general.


Greenwashing may mislead the consumer into thinking they are making an ethical choice by deciding to purchase or use the services of that company. The UK Advertising Standards Authority has for instance previously taken action against Suzuki, SEAT, Toyota and Lexus for making false claims about their vehicles in the past.


The CMA has recently decided to place an increased focus on greenwashing, having published its Green Claims Code in September 2021. According to the government, it aims to “help businesses understand how to communicate their green credentials, while avoiding the risk of misleading consumers”.


The fashion industry is often particularly guilty of greenwashing and is one of the industries with the greatest polluters on the planet, responsible for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output according to Bloomberg. It is also claimed that it contributes to emissions than both the aeronautical industries and the shipping industries combined. This is perhaps why the investigations into these companies is part of an increased focus on the green activities of the fashion sector by the CMA.


What are they being investigated for?


The issue appears to be around some of the branding by each of their companies, which they have used to add weight to their eco-friendly credentials. It is claimed that some of the slogans used including ASOS’s “Responsible edit”, Boohoo’s ‘Ready for the future’ and ‘George for Good’ by ASDA, may give the impression that their products are more sustainable than they actually are. All of the companies have committed to cooperating with the CMA in their investigation.


Explaining the reason for the investigation, 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.” Cardell went on to warn that: “all fashion companies should take note: look at your own practices and make sure they are in line with the law”.


Boohoo and ASOS, along with other brands like Shein, are often cited as examples of online clothes companies which are guilty of contributing towards the fast-fashion epidemic. People tend to buy more clothes than they used to, with fast fashion production having doubled since the year 2000. In a sign of how unfashionable the fast-fashion industry is becoming, the programme Love Island, hugely popular among Generation Z, this year turned its back on fast fashion by choosing to dress its contestants in pre-worn clothes from eBay.


Industry experts have questioned the long-term future of online fast-fashion brands, and this investigation by the CMA will certainly not help to detoxify their reputation.


Our thoughts


It seems only right that companies which seek to mislead consumers into thinking they are making an ethical decision by purchasing or using the services of the company are punished as a result. While Asda is a slightly different situation, the primary consumers of companies like BooHoo and ASOS are likely to be younger compared to many other fashion brands. Research shows that young people tend to be more environmentally conscious than older people, and are therefore more likely swayed into purchasing from a company which purports to care about its environmental impact.


Greenwashing is likely to continue to become more of an issue as the climate emergency becomes more tangible in the lives of everyday people. Furthermore, the commitment by the UK of decarbonising all industries and reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 will also put further pressure on fashion to commit to curbing their environmentally unfriendly practises.


It is worth keeping an eye on how the investigation by the CMA proceeds, and the extent of the action taken, if any. If the investigation concludes that action should be taken against the three named companies, the consequences could have serious ramifications for other fast fashion companies.


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