The fashion industry is “duping” shoppers into thinking they are buying sustainably by using “vague” language and exaggerating claims, industry experts have warned.
Retailers are facing new charges of ‘greenwashing’ after it emerged Asos, Boohoo and Asda were to be investigated over fears they were misleading customers with their environmental claims.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will examine the three companies’ sustainability claims in separate investigations as part of a wider effort to uncover evidence of “greenwashing” in the healthcare sector. fashion – a practice that activists say is widespread.
The competition regulator will examine whether statements and language used by Asos, Boohoo, Asda and other fashion companies are “too broad and vague”, and whether they have exaggerated their environmental credentials.
Lauren Bravo, author of How to break away from fast fashion, Told Ishoppers are “tricked” into buying clothes they believe are durable.
Brands use ‘vague language as a substitute for real transparency’, she said, or ‘highlight’ a positive element to make an item of clothing appear more sustainable than it is. .
“Greenwashing is rampant in the fashion industry, with brands exploiting our growing concern for the planet, and it can be very difficult for the average shopper to spot the lies and exaggerations among all the buzzwords and big demands,” she said.
As the public becomes more aware of the fashion industry’s polluting role, many retailers and clothing brands have sought to reshape their image by creating ranges made from recycled materials and highlighting their eco-friendly programs. of the environment.
A range launched by Asos last month, the Circular Design collection, offers clothing designed around the principles of “reducing waste, reusing and increasing recycling”.
“Each piece in the collection is made from safe, recycled or renewable materials, can be used more, and is made to be redone,” according to the retailer.
Another online retailer, Boohoo, has unveiled a slogan, “Ready for the Future”, which draws shoppers’ attention to clothing made from at least 20% sustainable materials.
And at Asda, customers who select clothes bearing the “George for Good” label can “rest assured that [the] the products are not only elegant but also durable”.
The CMA will examine whether fashion companies set sufficiently strict criteria for labeling clothing as sustainable and whether items labeled as sustainable meet this standard.
It will also consider whether relevant information about their ranges, such as fabric composition, is missing.
Boohoo, for example, claims that clothes are labeled as part of its “Ready for the Future” range if the garment contains at least 20% “better materials”, such as recycled fibres, organic cotton or viscose. of responsible origin.
He said customers “will be able to see the material makeup of the product and how it meets our Ready for the Future credentials on our product web pages.”
However, I found examples of items – like this purple denim shirt – that are listed as part of the range, where the product details offer no information on how they meet the collection criteria.
“Most brands speak loudly about their commitments to environmental and social justice, but rarely show evidence of action and impact,” said Ruth MacGilp, spokesperson for campaign group Fashion Revolution.
A recent study of the world’s 250 top fashion brands and retailers conducted by the group found that less than 40% of companies that publish sustainable materials targets actually disclose what they believe constitutes such a material.
“This suggests that sustainability is nothing more than a marketing tool for many brands, influencing consumers to make so-called ‘green’ decisions,” Ms MacGilp said.
“People who want to ‘buy green’ should be able to do so with confidence that they are not being misled,” said Sarah Cardell, CMA’s acting executive director.
“Eco-friendly and sustainable products can play a role in the fight against climate change, but only if they are authentic.
“We will be looking at the green claims of Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda to see if they stack up.”
Asos said it would cooperate with the investigation and pledged to “play its part to make fashion more sustainable, including providing clear and accurate information about its products”, while Boohoo said it had “worked closely with the CMA to understand their expectations and support with their investigation.”
Asda said: “We know how important it is for our customers to be able to trust the claims we make about our products, which is why we ensure that the claims we make can be backed up by accreditations from the industry. We are ready and willing to answer any questions the CMA has regarding our George for Good range.