The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced today that it has formally launched an investigation into Unilever, examining the global consumer brand giant’s green claims, after an initial review revealed “a range of concerning practices” that the company may be overstating the environmental attributes of some its products.
In a statement today from a Unilever spokesperson, the company said that it was “surprised and disappointed” by the announcement, and added that it refuted that the company’s claims “are in any way misleading.”
The CMA said that its investigation forms part of its broader greenwashing investigation into whether consumers are being misled by the sustainability claims in the marketing of products and services.
Earlier this year, the regulator announced that it would begin examining the green claims made by companies marketing items including food, drink and homecare products, following preliminary work that CMA Chief Executive Sarah Cardell said had indicated that “there could be greenwashing going on” in the sector.
Following its initial review of companies in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, which the CMA said “uncovered a range of concerning practices,” the regulator announced that it would begin an investigation into Unilever, with concerns including the use of “vague and broad” language that could mislead shoppers about the environmental impact of certain products, claims about ingredients that could exaggerate how “natural” the product is, claims about a single aspect of a product that may suggest that the product as a whole is environmentally friendly, and claims about product recyclability that fail to specify if they relate to the whole product, or just part, or the packaging.
The regulator also said that the “colours and imagery” used by Unilever “may create the overall impression that some products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.”
“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.”
In the company’s statement, the Unilever spokesperson said that the company will cooperate with the CMA in its probe. The statement added:
“Unilever is committed to making responsible claims about the benefits of our products on our packs and to these being transparent and clear, and we have robust processes in place to make sure any claims can be substantiated.”
Since announcing its review of the FMCG sector, the CMA said that it has seen signs of improvement in the sector, including suppliers changing and removing some green claims. Noting that it has “identified a range of concerns,” however, the regulator said that “new investigations may follow.”