The fashion industry is “duping” shoppers into believing they are making sustainable purchases by using “vague” language and exaggerating claims, industry experts have warned.
Retailers are facing fresh accusations of “greenwashing” after it emerged that Asos, Boohoo and Asda are to be investigated over concerns they may be misleading customers with their environmental claims.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will scrutinise the three firms’ sustainability claims in separate investigations as part of a wider effort to uncover evidence of “greenwashing” in the fashion sector – a practice campaigners argue is rife.
The competition regulator will examine whether the statements and language used by Asos, Boohoo, Asda and other fashion businesses are “too broad and vague”, and if they have overstated their environmental credentials.
Lauren Bravo, author of How To Break Up With Fast Fashion, told i shoppers are being “duped” into buying clothes they believe are sustainable.
Brands use “vague language as a substitute for true transparency”, she said, or “hype up” one positive element to give the impression a garment is more sustainable than it is.
“Greenwashing is rife in the fashion industry, with brands exploiting our growing concern for the planet, and it can be really hard for the average shopper to spot the lies and exaggerations amid all the buzzwords and big claims,” she said.
As public awareness of the fashion industry’s role as a pollutant has mounted, many clothing retailers and brands have sought to remodel their image by creating ranges made from recycled materials and underscoring their professed eco-friendly agendas.
A range launched by Asos last month, the Circular Design Collection, features garments designed around the principles of “reducing waste, and reusing and recycling more”.
“Every piece in the collection is made from safe and recycled or renewable materials, can be used more, and is made to be made again,” according to the retailer.
Fellow online retailer Boohoo has unveiled a strapline, “Ready for the Future”, which highlights to shoppers when garments are made from at least 20 per cent sustainable materials.
And at Asda, customers who select garments bearing the label “George for Good” can “rest assured that [the] products aren’t just stylish but sustainable too”.
The CMA will examine whether fashion businesses are setting tough enough criteria when labelling garments as sustainable, and whether items labelled as sustainable live up to that standard.
It will also consider if relevant information about their ranges, such as what the fabric is made from, is missing.
Boohoo, for example, says clothing is labelled as part of its “Ready for the Future” range if the garment contains at least 20 per cent “better materials”, such as recycled fibres, organic cotton, or responsibly sourced viscose.
It said customers will “be able to see the product’s material composition and how it meets our Ready for the Future credentials on our product web pages”.
However, i found examples of items – such as 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’s criteria.
“Most brands talk loudly about their commitments to environmental and social justice but rarely show evidence of action and impact,” said Ruth MacGilp, a spokeswoman for campaign group Fashion Revolution.
A recent review of the world’s 250 largest fashion brands and retailers conducted by the group found that less than 40 per cent of firms that publish targets on sustainable materials actually disclose what constitutes such a material in their view.
“This suggests that sustainability is nothing more than a marketing tool for many brands, which misleads consumers into making so-called ‘eco-friendly’ decisions,” Ms MacGilp said.
“People who want to ‘buy green’ should be able to do so confident that they aren’t being misled,” said Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA.
“Eco-friendly and sustainable products can play a role in tackling climate change, but only if they are genuine.
“We’ll be scrutinising green claims from Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda to see if they stack up.”
Asos said it would cooperate with the investigation and was committed to “playing its part in making fashion more sustainable, including providing clear and accurate information about its products” while Boohoo said it had been “working closely with the CMA to understand their expectations and support them with their investigation”.
Asda said: “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. We are ready and willing to answer any questions the CMA have about our George for Good range.”