Fashion retailers ASOS, Boohoo and ASDA’s George clothing brand are being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over alleged ‘greenwashing’, the watchdog announced today.
The three fashion brands and retailers are being scrutinised about whether they misrepresented their sustainability criteria, and could face legal action if they are found to have breached competition rules, the watchdog said.
“Should we find these companies are using misleading eco-claims, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action – through the courts, if necessary,” the CMA said in a statement.
It forms part of a broader ongoing investigation into corporate greenwashing by the CMA launched back in 2020, looking at how products and services claiming to be ‘eco-friendly’ are being marketed, and whether consumers are being misled. As part of the campaign, the CMA launched the ‘Green Claims Code’ in 2021, outlining the six criteria companies need to fulfil to be considered “genuinely green”.
At the start of this year, the government agency turned its attention specifically on the fashion sector, saying it had “identified concerns around potentially misleading green claims”.
“These included a number of companies creating the impression that their products were ‘sustainable’ or better for the environment – for example by making broad claims about the use of recycled materials in new clothing – with little to no information about the basis for those claims or exactly which products they related to,” it explained.
Regarding the investigation into ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda, the CMA said it was examining whether “the statements and language used by the businesses are too broad and vague may create the impression that clothing collections […] are more environmentally sustainable than they actually are”.
Online retailers ASOS and Boohoo both promote more ‘ethically’-produced clothing ranges on their websites. These include ASOS’s ‘Responsible edit’ fashion line, Boohoo’s current ‘Ready for the Future’ range, and the ‘George for Good’ range on sale at ASDA supermarkets.
The CMA said it would look at the criteria used to decide which products are included in these clothing ranges. It said that “collections may be lower than customers might reasonably expect from their descriptions and overall presentation – for example, some products may contain as little as 20 per cent recycled fabric.”
The CMA also warned that as its enquiry continues, it may “put additional firms under the microscope”.
Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA, said that consumers who want to ‘buy green’ should be able to do so without concerns that they are being misled.
“Eco-friendly and sustainable products can play a role in tackling climate change, but only if they are genuine,” she explained. “We will be scrutinizing green claims from ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda to see if they stack up. […] 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 contacted all three firms. ASOS released a statement today confirming it would be co-operating with the investigation, and is “committed to playing its part in making fashion more sustainable, including providing clear and accurate information about its products”.
A version of this article originally appeared at Investment Week.
Bohoo told Investment Week that it had been “working closely with the CMA to understand their expectations and support them with their investigation”.
“We have clear guidelines and a compliance process for our Ready for the Future ranges, to help us communicate these complex issues,” it said in a statement.
Boohoo added that its intention was “to support our customers in making choices that are right for them and to do this we recognise that we need to provide them with straightforward and no-nonsense information”.
“We hope that the outcome of the CMA’s sector investigations provides all retailers with clear guidelines on what can and should be communicated,” the fashion retailer said. “We are proud of the progress we have made and are of course happy to continue to work collaboratively with the CMA to understand how we can further improve.”
ASDA also responded to the CMA’s announcement today.
“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,” the supermarket said. “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.”