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Fashion Industry News: Are Environmental Claims Coming Apart At The Seams? – Environmental Law



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Environmental claims are all the rage across Europe and the
West. But if fashion brands are not careful, their claims could
enrage regulators, and irritate the public.

Double Dutch

In the most recent example of green claims coming under scrutiny
in the fashion sector, we need look no further than the
Netherlands.

Following an investigation by The Netherlands’ Authority for
Consumer Markets (ACM) into ‘green’ terms such as
“Ecodesign” and “Conscious”, two retailers,
namely H&M and Decathlon, have agreed to “adjust or no
longer use sustainability claims on their clothes and/or
websites”, and ensure consumers are better-informed.

The ACM was concerned that communications by Decathlon about its
“Ecodesign” label lacked clarity and detail. Similarly,
H&M acknowledged information shared on its site “could
have been clearer and more comprehensive”, as the company said
it is committed to learning and establishing clearer industry-wide
legal frameworks for communicating sustainability.

As well as prostrating themselves in this way, H&M and
Decathlon will also donate ?500,000 (about $508,000) and
£400,000 respectively to causes linked to sustainability in
the fashion industry. In light of these ‘donations’, the
ACM has stated that it will not impose sanctions.

In the UK, it is unlikely that regulators such as the CMA or ASA
would bring investigations to a close as a result of such
‘philanthropic’ donations.

Going Dutch

Regulators across Europe are also paying close attention to
these issues.

Earlier this year, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)
decided to “pause the consumer facing transparency programme
globally” as it works with regulators and consumer agencies
“to better understand how to substantiate product claims with
trusted and credible data”. The SAC has commissioned an urgent
third-party review of its Higg Materials Sustainability Index
(MSI), whose data and methodologies underpin its environmental
claims and have faced regulatory scrutiny and criticism.

The SAC’s programme was intended to help companies provide
clear information to shoppers about how items such as organic
cotton T-shirts perform on environmental measures like water usage
and carbon emissions, relative to those made from ordinary cotton.
Just a year after it was launched, the future of the programme is
in jeopardy after the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) decided
that outerwear brand Norrøna and H&M could no longer
rely on the programme to market their products, due to its
potential to mislead consumers.

In the UK, as you will know, various fashion retailers are
currently being investigated for their own environmental claims by
the UK’s Competition Markets Authority (CMA).

Further afield, in the US, H&M also is the subject of a
proposed class-action lawsuit filed in the state of New York, aimed
at the fast-fashion retailer’s sustainability claims. The
proposed class action alleges the fashion retailer has misled
consumers about the sustainability of hundreds of products by
publishing online “environmental scorecards” that
contained false or misleading information.

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