Global sweep finds 40% of firms’ green claims could be misleading

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The International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) hosts an annual sweep of websites, which gives consumer authorities across the world the opportunity to target fraudulent, deceptive or unfair conduct online. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) led the latest sweep, focusing on misleading environmental claims for the first time.

This comes as the CMA’s own investigation into misleading environmental claims is ongoing, to better understand the impact of green marketing on consumers.

As part of the international sweep, ICPEN members have so far analysed almost 500 websites promoting products and services across a range of sectors, including clothes, cosmetics and food.

Members found that 4 in 10 of these websites appeared to be using tactics that could be considered misleading and therefore potentially break consumer law. These included:

  • Vague claims and unclear language including terms such as ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ or reference to ‘natural products’ without adequate explanation or evidence of the claims.

  • Own brand eco logos and labels not associated with an accredited organisation.

  • Hiding or omitting certain information, such as a product’s pollution levels, to appear more eco-friendly.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:

“Too many websites appear to be pushing misleading claims onto consumers, which means that companies offering products with a genuine environmental benefit are not getting the customers they deserve. People should be able to easily choose between those companies who are doing the right thing for the environment and those who are not.

“This is a global issue, so it’s only right that we look at it in a global context. Our joint work with other regulators will help us identify the big issues facing consumers and protect people from paying a premium for fake ‘eco-friendly’ products.”

The results of the international sweep will be used to inform the CMA’s ongoing investigation, alongside results from a CMA survey of businesses and consumers, who were invited to have their say on ‘green’ products and marketing last November.

The CMA will publish guidance for UK businesses later this year to help them support the transition to a low carbon economy whilst ensuring that consumers get the information they need.

At this early stage, ICPEN members have not reached a view as to whether or not consumer protection law has been broken. However, if the CMA finds evidence that businesses are misleading UK consumers, it will take appropriate action.

All updates on the CMA’s work in this area can be found on the Misleading Environmental Claims case page.

Notes to editors

  1. The key piece of consumer protection legislation relevant to the CMA’s investigation is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). The CPRs contain a general prohibition against unfair commercial practices and specific prohibitions against misleading actions or misleading omissions.
  2. Read more about how the CMA is supporting the transition to a low carbon economy in the consultation of its 2021/22 Annual Plan.
  3. For more information about the ICPEN sweep, visit its website.
  4. The Sweep was conducted from 9 – 27 November 2020, to align with the timing of the European Commission’s sweep on the same topic.
  5. ICPEN members swept 1095 websites in total and 495 results have been analysed so far.
  6. For more information on the European Commission’s sweep, look on their ‘Sweeps’ page under green claims
  7. The ACM’s press release on misleading green claims can be found on its website.
  8. Media enquiries should be directed to press@cma.gov.uk or 020 3738 6460.

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