The Competition and Markets Authority in the UK has launched an investigation into fashion giant ASOS, alongside Boohoo and ASDA’s George range of clothing. The investigation intends to “scrutinize” whether these three brands have been guilty of “greenwashing” by making potentially misleading claims about the sustainability of their product ranges.
Just a few weeks before the investigation was launched, ASOS quietly removed its sustainable range from its website — alongside a filter feature that purportedly only displayed “items that met certain sustainability criteria, such as using recycled materials and sustainable fibres.”
UK news outlet, inews, revealed that these were both removed without fanfare or explanation by July 15th, 2022. By July 29th, 2022, the CMA announced that it was investigating ASOS, Boohoo, and ASDA George.
The CMA is reportedly concerned that these brands have been making potentially “misleading claims on how their products were ‘sustainable’ or better for the environment without giving consumers information on the basis of those claims.”
In particular, they are concerned that the “brands are using vague language to market items as environmentally friendly, and weak criteria to decide if products are sustainable.” The interim CEO of CMA, Sarah Cardell, explained in a statement that consumers “who want to ‘buy green’ should be able to do so confident that they aren’t being misled.”
If the CMA is able to find evidence that these brands purposefully misled consumers, she warned that it “won’t hesitate to take enforcement action – through the courts if necessary…This is just the start of our work in this sector and all fashion companies should take note: look at your own practices and make sure they are in line with the law.”
In response, ASOS explained that it “took the decision to proactively remove the functionality of the Responsible Edit, including filters, from the website in June as we co-operated with the CMA’s review of the fashion retail sector and we informed them of this move.”
Those consumers who try to access the brand’s responsible range will now be redirected to their Responsible fashion landing page, with the headline: “Responsible Fashion: Our Journey To A More Sustainable Future.”
This landing page features a somewhat honest appraisal of their performance when it comes to sustainability:
“We know we’re not perfect, but we’re serious about doing this right – from our products and packaging to how we work with partners, people and planet. We’re on a journey to becoming a more sustainable brand, and we hope you’ll join us. Interested? Find out more about it below…”
The investigation into ASOS, Boohoo, and ASDA George is just the latest in a string of recent events relating to greenwashing but one of the first to hit the fashion industry, which has seen an explosion of new brands or new offerings from existing brands step up to rising demand from consumers for more sustainable options when it comes to apparel.
In other industries, countless brands have already been exposed for bending the truth to make their offering appear more environmentally-friendly and misleading consumers. From Ryanair to Oatly, greenwashing appears to be a problem that will keep recurring, as long as consumers’ purchasing decisions are driven by concerns over the environment.
However, while it might be tempting to have it both ways and cash in on green credentials that your brand hasn’t actually earned — one exposed, your brand could suffer serious harm.
Of course, the jury is still out on ASOS, Boohoo, and ASDA George with the CMA’s investigation still ongoing, but should it turn out that these brands have willingly misled them, it goes without saying that consumers will likely vote with their feet and shop with brands that they can trust.