Shopper reading product label

The CMA has told fmcg businesses to make sure they can back up their green claims

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is tightening its grip on supermarkets over fears of increasing greenwashing claims of food and drink items.

The CMA’s investigation into greenwashing claims is shifting its focus to the fmcg sector after taking on big fashion retailers last year including Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda.

The watchdog said it would “examine the accuracy of ‘green’ claims made about household essentials” such as food, toothpaste and laundry detergent “to make sure shoppers are not being misled”.

The move comes as an increasing number of household items including food and drink, cleaning products and toiletries are marketed as eco-friendly – including up to 91% of all dishwashing items and the vast majority of toilet products, the CMA said.

“Our work to date has shown there could be greenwashing going on in this sector, and we’ll be scrutinising companies big and small to see whether their environmental claims stack up,” said CMA’s CEO Sarah Cardell.

“These products are the essentials on everyone’s shopping lists: food and drink, shampoo, laundry detergent, toothpaste, cleaning products.

“We’re concerned many shoppers are being misled and potentially even paying a premium for products that aren’t what they seem, especially at a time when the cost of living continues to rise.”

Cardell warned businesses now was “a good time” for them to review their practices and “make sure they’re operating within the law”.

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Last year, the CMA began cracking down on so-called ‘green claims’ to assert whether products or services that claimed to be eco-friendly were accurately marketed to shoppers.

It investigated classic greenwashing tropes such as using vague or broad statements – like marketing a product as “sustainable” or “better for the environment” – to make sure brands could back up those environmental claims with evidence.

However, the watchdog had mainly focused on the fashion industry up until now, launching investigations into retail giants Asda, Boohoo and Asos over their green claims last year. The investigation is still ongoing.

“Businesses need to be honest and have available clear and unambiguous data in support of all their claims to be environmentally-friendly, and act to avoid any allegations that they have sought to greenwash their environmental assurances,” said Bill Dunkerley, regulatory lawyer and associate partner at law firm Pannone Corporate.

“If there is any suggestion that a business has sought to mislead, or has acted disingenuously in connection with the environmental impact of its operations, this will only serve to place them in the spotlight for future claims.”