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UK regulators are investigating whether Unilever overstated how ‘green’ some of its products are as scrutiny of environmental claims by the consumer goods sector intensifies.
The Competition and Markets Authority said on Tuesday that it is looking at some of the environmental claims made by the group, whose brands include Dove and Lynx, in the packaging and marketing of a range of products.
Some of Unilever’s claims about how ‘natural’ products are may be exaggerated and misleading, the regulator said, along with the types of images and logos — such as green leaves — it is using in some cases.
The watchdog is also concerned about claims the company has made around how environmentally friendly some products are, and statements about recyclability that do not clearly state whether they relate to all or part of an item.
“The evidence we’ve seen has raised concerns about how Unilever presents certain products as environmentally friendly,” said Sarah Cardell, the chief executive of the CMA. “We’ll be drilling down into these claims to see if they measure up.”
The CMA has contacted Unilever and is planning to set out its concerns in writing to the company on Tuesday, the watchdog said.
Once the regulator has determined if any consumer protection laws have been breached, potential outcomes include securing undertakings from Unilever to change practices, taking the company to court, or closing the investigation without action.
“We are surprised and disappointed with the CMA’s announcement and refute that our claims are in any way misleading,” Unilever said in a statement. “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.”
The investigation into Unilever is part of a wider probe into greenwashing by companies under way at the watchdog, which the regulator expanded in January to include consumer goods such as food and toiletries. Unilever said it will continue to co-operate with the CMA.
The CMA is one of a list of regulators scrutinising ‘green’ claims in different industries, including the UK Financial Conduct Authority, as watchdogs seek to prevent companies trying to falsely capitalise on the growing focus by consumers on the issue.
“Problematic claims include the use of vague and broad eco-statements, for example packaging or marketing a product as ‘sustainable’ or ‘better’ for the environment with no evidence,” the CMA said.
The CMA didn’t specify which of Unilever’s products it was concerned about.