The UK’s competition watchdog is looking into statements made by fashion brands ASOS, Boohoo, and Asda about the sustainability of their fashion lines.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) expressed concern over the use of ambiguous terminology that could give the impression that a brand’s fashion collections are more environmentally friendly than they are.
This ‘greenwashing’ can be misleading (making it more difficult for consumers to identify sustainable options). It can also be a significant barrier to creating a more eco-conscious fashion chain, decreasing transparency. Fashion brands can be tempted to greenwash for several reasons. These include the marketing power of sustainable options, positive market positioning as a ‘sustainable’ brand and ambiguous criteria to determine eco credentials.
The CMA has launched a preliminary investigation into ASOS, Boohoo and Asda to determine if their labelling is misleading for customers. Some of these concerns include:
- Over claiming on the use or content of recycled materials used in a garment, including not providing proof of these claims
- ‘Broad and vague’ marketing statements imply unsubstantiated sustainability, for example, the ‘Responsible Edit’ from ASOS.
- Low amounts of actual recycled fabric used in garments claiming to be sustainable
- Lack of honest, accurate information for consumers to be able to make informed choices
- Vague and misleading claims on accreditation schemes and standards
Will naming and shaming brands who greenwash work?
Potentially naming and shaming brands is one way of achieving a more sustainable industry, but will it work long-term? While ASOS has removed their ‘Responsible Edit‘ from sale for now, it remains to be seen whether this is a genuine attempt to review and make the collection more sustainable or a shrewd PR move.
The industry has welcomed the CMA’s investigation into sustainability, with it being viewed as a chance to address misleading, exaggerated or false claims by brands over their sustainability.
Fashion brands may not necessarily lie to be viewed as more sustainable. Still, they indeed can overemphasise the positive impacts of their efforts, both to sell more and be considered as market leaders with potential customers. The investigation by the CMA and the potential to be named and shamed may be sufficiently worrying for brands to increase transparency across their supply chains- ultimately giving consumers increased confidence in their ability to sustainable options.
And this should be an overall positive result, increasing supply chain transparency, leading to better, more honest marketing claims and generating industry standard KPIs- making ‘sustainable’ a more standardised and less confusing claim for consumers.
Brands must be held more accountable in order to become more sustainable, and along with other measures (such as the EPR programmes), the investigation by the CMA is an important step in creating more transparency in the global supply chain. However, ultimately, the best way for fashion brands to be more sustainable is to produce fewer clothes, and naming and shaming eco-credentials doesn’t necessarily support this.
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