Policy & Regulation Sustainability Brand Safety

FMCG giants are the target of the CMA’s latest greenwashing crackdown

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By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

January 27, 2023 | 5 min read

The UK’s competition regulator says it is growing concerned shoppers are being duped by misleading environmental claims on household items.

household items

Last year, UK consumers spent approximately £130bn on household items / Unsplash

The Competitions and Marketing Authority (CMA) has launched a review into the accuracy of green claims made about household essentials.

Last year, UK consumers spent approximately £130bn in the FMCG category – which includes food and drink, toiletries, household cleaning products and personal care items.

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Investigating the claims

A significant number of these products are currently marketed as green or environmentally friendly, including up to 91% of all dishwashing items and 100% of toilet products.

But CMA chief exec Sarah Cardell expressed concern that shoppers are being “misled” and “potentially even paying a premium for products that aren’t what they seem.”

As a result, the regulator will be analyzing environmental claims made about such products – both online and in-store – to consider whether companies are complying with UK consumer protection law.

Concerning practices could include the use of vague and broad eco-statements such as ‘sustainable’ or ‘better for the environment’ with little or no evidence; misleading claims about the use of recycled or natural materials in a product and how recyclable it is; and entire ranges being incorrectly branded as ‘sustainable’.

“Our work to date has shown there could be greenwashing going on in this sector, and we’ll be scrutinizing companies big and small to see whether their environmental claims stack up. Now is a good time for businesses to review their practices and make sure they’re operating within the law,” added Cardell.

Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, partner and deputy head of advertising and marketing at law firm Lewis Silkin told The Drum that the crackdown on green claims is set to be a “red hot topic” in 2023 and beyond.

“It comes at a time when the nation is tightening its belt but people are still trying to make environmentally sound choices when it comes to buying those essentials,” he said.

“The CMA is a serious regulator, with much stronger powers than the Advertising Standards Authority, so more and more brands will want to get their house in order when it comes to promoting their environmental credentials, whether it’s on their website, social media, advertising or on-pack – the regulators are keeping an eagle eye.”

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As we saw with brands the CMA is investigating in the fashion sector, they will be choosing their next target and won’t be shy about making their concerns public even at the early stages of their investigations.”

Last year, the CMA launched an initial review into the fashion sector, triggering enforcement action against well-known fashion brands Asos, BooHoo and George at Asda. The CMA wrote to the three firms outlining its concerns and the investigation is ongoing.

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