UK watchdog investigates Unilever over greenwashing concerns

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into Unilever over concerns about how the company markets certain products as environmentally friendly.

The UK regulator is scrutinising whether certain statements regarding the environmental impact of some of the items made by the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) giant – which owns brands like Dove, Comfort, and Lynx – are “misleading” to customers.

It is also investigating whether claims about some ingredients in its products are presented in a way that may exaggerate how ‘natural’ the product is.

The competition watchdog is looking at some of Unilever's green statements – particularly concerning recyclability – to identify if they are unclear because they fail to specify whether they relate to all or part of a product or packaging.

The competition watchdog says that the company’s use of colours and imagery, including green leaves, could additionally create the impression that some of its products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.

The investigation forms part of the organisation’s wider probe into greenwashing in the FMCG industry, a market which saw shoppers spend more than £140 billion on last year.

“So far, the evidence we’ve seen has raised concerns about how Unilever presents certain products as environmentally friendly," said Sarah Cardell, chief executive, CMA. "We’ll be drilling down into these claims to see if they measure up."

She warned that if the CMA finds Unilever to be greenwashing, it will "take action" to make sure shoppers are protected.

The authority has contacted the company about its investigation, explaining that possible outcomes of the probe could include securing undertakings from Unilever that commit the firm to change the way it operates; taking the company to court; or closing the case without further action.

The CMA said that while it has seen some positive changes in the FMCG sector since announcing its clampdown on greenwashing, including amendments to and removal of some green claims made by a number of suppliers, its review identified a range of concerns.

It has not opened official investigations into any other companies at this stage but it said that work is "ongoing", adding that new probes could follow that of Unilever.

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