The Competition and Markets Authority has launched an investigation into whether eco-friendly and sustainability claims made by the fast fashion chains Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda constitute greenwashing.
Sarah Cardell, the interim CMA chief executive, said the regulator would be scrutinising green claims made by the brands and “won’t hesitate to take enforcement action” if they are found to have been misleading customers over their environmental credentials.
“People who want to ‘buy green’ should be able to do so confident that they aren’t being misled. Eco-friendly and sustainable products can play a role in tackling climate change, but only if they are genuine,” she said.
“We’ll be scrutinising green claims from Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda to see if they stack up. Should we find these companies are using misleading eco claims, we won’t hesitate to take enforcement action – through the courts if necessary.”
The CMA, which said in January it would be prioritising fashion as part of its efforts to crack down on greenwashing, has written to the three firms outlining its concerns and said it would use its information-gathering powers to obtain evidence to progress its investigation.
Cardell warned all fashion brands that this was “just the start” of a wider investigation “and all fashion companies should take note: look at your own practices and make sure they are in line with the law”.
It is part of the CMA’s investigation into potential greenwashing after concerns over the way the firms’ products are being marketed to customers as eco-friendly.
The watchdog says entire lines of clothing are being labelled sustainable and eco-friendly, without the company having proof that the whole process – from manufacture to delivery, packaging and sale – is good for the environment.
Asos and Boohoo said on Friday that they would cooperate with the CMA’s investigation. Asos said it was “committed to playing its part in making fashion more sustainable, including providing clear and accurate information about its products”.
Boohoo said it was “committed to providing its customers with accurate information on the products they buy”.
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 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 is estimated that UK consumers spend £54bn annually on clothing and footwear, and this is expected to continue growing in the coming years.
According to some estimates, fashion is responsible for between 2% and 8% of global carbon emissions, as well as causing waste and pollution. About 300,000 tonnes of used clothes are burned or buried in landfill each year in the UK. The growing volume of online shopping returns has also fuelled concern among campaigners.
It is thought the global industry contributes more to the climate emergency than the aeronautical and shipping industries combined and, if trends continue, it could account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.