Unilever’s green claims come under Competition and Markets Authority scrutiny

THE Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will be scrutinising environmental claims made by the consumer goods group Unilever, which is known for brands including Cif, Dove, Comfort, and Lynx.

The move comes as part of the CMA’s wider investigation into greenwashing and follows concerns around how Unilever is marketing certain products, within some brands, to customers as environmentally friendly.

In January this year, the CMA expanded its work on environmental claims to include fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). These are essential items that people use on a daily basis and are repurchased regularly, such as food and drink, cleaning products, toiletries, and personal care items. Last year, shoppers paid out more than £140 billion in total on FMCG products.

The CMA’s initial review uncovered a range of concerning practices, and, as part of that work, the CMA has today launched a formal investigation into Unilever. Regarding certain products, the CMA’s concerns include whether:

  • Certain statements and language used by Unilever appear vague and broad, and may mislead shoppers regarding the environmental impact of those products
  • Claims about some ingredients are presented in a way that may exaggerate how natural the product is, and so may create an inaccurate or misleading impression
  • Claims focusing on a single aspect of a product may suggest it is environmentally friendly as a whole
  • Certain green claims – particularly in relation to recyclability – may be unclear, as they fail to specify whether they relate to all or part of a product, or packaging
  • Unilever’s use of colours and imagery – such as green leaves – may create the overall impression that some products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said, “Essentials like detergent, kitchen spray, and toiletries are the kinds of items you put in your supermarket basket every time you shop. More and more people are trying to do their bit to help protect the environment, but we’re worried many are being misled by so-called ‘green’ products that aren’t what they seem.

“So far, the evidence we’ve seen has raised concerns about how Unilever presents certain products as environmentally friendly. We’ll be drilling down into these claims to see if they measure up. If we find they’re greenwashing, we’ll take action to make sure shoppers are protected.”

The CMA has contacted Unilever and set out its concerns in writing. Following this, the CMA will use its information-gathering powers to obtain further evidence to progress its investigation. How the case unfolds will depend on what the evidence shows. Possible outcomes include securing undertakings from Unilever that commit the firm to change the way it operates; taking the company to court; or closing the case without further action.

The CMA has seen some positive changes in the FMCG sector since announcing its compliance review, including amendments to and removal of some green claims made by a number of suppliers.

However, its review identified a range of concerns and, while the CMA has not opened official investigations into other companies at this point, its work is ongoing and new investigations may follow.

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