H&M and Decathlon have been accused of greenwashing. This follows a two-year investigation by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). ACM has fined both retail chains significant amounts of money. The money will go towards sustainability causes within the fashion sector.
Sporting goods retail chain Decathlon and clothing retail chain H&M have agreed to make adjustments to or no longer make sustainability claims on their products. This follows after they were exposed by Dutch authorities to be greenwashing. They are expected to pay €400,000 and €500,000 respectively to sustainability causes to avoid sanctions by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). The two chains have claimed to commit to informing consumers more clearly in order to minimize misleading practices involving sustainability. The ACM has decided not to impose sanctions.
How can we trust retail chains that are still greenwashing?
The global economy views sustainability as a liability more than an asset. However, it is neither, because sustainability is a necessity for the survival of society as we know it. Society needs environmental quality, healthy natural resources and economic equality for a bright future. Therefore, greenwashing by large retail chains is a choice, and one that can be avoided.
The lack of sanctions is indicative of large conglomerates getting away with human and environmental rights. Consumers should not be deceived by the brands they trust to guide their sustainable choices. H&M has once before been pardoned for violating their sustainability clauses. This means that the current incident is not a mistake but a calculated manipulation in pursuit of profit. Therefore, the choice is left with the consumers to continue supporting the brand or not.
More questions rely on the fashion industry’s governing bodies. Are monetary fines sufficient to prevent further deceit? More so when it is clear that retail chains make more revenue than they are fined for. The best solutions are the ones with real change attached to them. Companies like H&M and Decathlon are capable of adopting the solutions they claim to employ. For example they can resell the items they receive in returns at lower rates. They can also donate their excess materials to independent designers, to prevent the waste of natural resources. Moreover, they can pay their garment workers a living wage to avoid human rights violations.
How can consumers be guaranteed that they are buying authentic sustainable products?
Businesses that promote sustainability through their products need to ensure that their claims are correct, clear and verifiable. ACM has explained the rules in its guidelines regarding sustainability claims, and examines that businesses use the rules accordingly. The five rules for honest sustainability claims are as follows:
- Make clear what sustainability benefit the product offers.
- Substantiate sustainability claims with facts, and keep them up to date.
- Comparisons with other products, services, or companies must be fair.
- Companies must be honest and specific about their efforts regarding sustainability.
- Ensure that visual claims and labels are useful to consumers, not confusing.
What is the outcome of the investigation?
ACM has maintained that they investigated H&M and Decathlon with other retail chains. Their investigation revealed that the two fined retail chains were using general terms such as eco-design and conscious to sell products. The issue with using general terms is the lack of clarity regarding the sustainability benefits with the claim. ACM will continue to monitor the two chains’ commitments to making correct claims over the next two years.
They also maintain that their organization serves both people and businesses. Sustainable products and responsible consumption are important in the transition to a sustainable society. Consumers must be able to confidently make sustainable choices without being misled. Sustainable businesses must also be protected from unfair parties using misleading claims to get ahead.
ACM’s findings are fair. However, the misleading of consumers needs closer inspection and research. The transition to a sustainable society is not a smooth one, but it can be achieved through commitment and honesty. Moving forward, sanctions will become necessary for repeat offenders to understand that sustainability is no longer a choice, but a necessity for our survival.