UK competition watchdog to probe fashion retailers over greenwashing

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

The Competition and Markets Authority on Friday said it was probing statements by Asos, Boohoo and Asda’s George brand about the green-friendly nature of their fashion products, including clothing, footwear and accessories.

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

“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,” the watchdog said.

The CMA said the eco-friendly language used by the retailers was “too broad and vague, and may create the impression that clothing collections — such as the ‘Responsible edit’ from Asos, Boohoo’s current ‘Ready for the Future’ range, and ‘ George for Good’ — are more environmentally sustainable than they actually are”.

Asos said it would co-operate with the CMA 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 statements it made regarding sustainability “can be supported by industry accreditations”.

“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,” it said.

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

Fashion, especially the cheaper fast-fashion end of the business, has faced growing scrutiny about the environmental impact of its products. Globally, the industry is thought to be responsible for more carbon emissions than aviation and shipping combined, as a rush to produce cheaper clothes encourages overconsumption.

Wrap has estimated that a kilogramme of cotton — roughly equivalent to a T-shirt and a pair of jeans — requires up to 20,000 litres of water to produce, straining ecosystems in poorer countries.

Clothing is technically difficult and often uneconomic to reprocess and recycling rates are very poor — a 2019 report from the UK parliament’s environmental audit committee estimated that about 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 usage. Some, including Asos, have launched online marketplaces for second-hand clothes or placed collection points in stores for unwanted garments.

But they have also acknowledged that environmental rhetoric among younger consumers, in particular, does not translate into buying habits. A survey by German fashion platform Zalando last year found that just 23 per cent of respondents ranked sustainability highly in their motivations for buying — compared with four-fifths who were swayed by price and fit.

The CMA probe follows a recent rebuke 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 provide no evidence surrounding products in its Plant Chef range and told it not to make environmental claims “unless they held sufficient evidence to substantiate [them]”.

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