Unilever investigated by UK Watchdog over greenwashing claims


Dove Essentials

The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) has announced it is investigating Dove soap and Marmite-maker Unilever over “green” claims.

The CMA says its initial review into consumer goods group Unilever, which is known for brands including Lynx, Dove, Comfort, and Cif, uncovered a “range of concerning practices.

It has now opened a formal investigation into concerns that Unilever may be overstating how green certain products are through the use of “vague and broad claims”, unclear statements around recyclability, and “natural” looking images and logos.

The UK Watchdog has highlighted its concerns that certain “green claims”, particularly about recyclability, may be unclear, as Unilever fail to specify whether they relate to all or part of a product, or packaging.

Last year (2022), the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned Unilever’s Persil advert for not being able to evidence that the full-lifecycle of the product had a lesser environmental impact compared to a previous formulation.

The CMA says its initial review uncovered a range of concerning practices.

In January this year, the CMA expanded its work on environmental claims to include fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). FMCG are essential items that people use daily and are repurchased regularly, such as food and drink, cleaning products, toiletries, and personal care items.

Regarding certain Unilever products, the CMA’s concerns included whether certain statements and language used by Unilever appear vague and broad and may mislead shoppers regarding the environmental impact of those products.

The CMA is also investigating whether claims about some ingredients are presented in a way that may exaggerate how “natural” the product is and if Unilever’s use of colours and imagery such as green leaves could mislead consumers into thinking a product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, commented: “More and more people are trying to do their bit to help protect the environment, but we’re worried many are being misled by so-called ‘green’ products that aren’t what they seem.

The evidence we’ve seen has raised concerns about how Unilever presents certain products as environmentally friendly.

“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.”

The CMA says it has contacted Unilever and will set out its concerns in writing later today. Following this, the CMA says it will use the information-gathering powers to obtain further evidence to progress its investigation. Possible outcomes 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.

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