The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced a formal investigation into Unilever‘s environmental claims related to certain household essential items, including cleaning products and toiletries. 

The move is part of the CMA’s broader initiative to combat greenwashing in the fast-moving consumer goods sector.

CMA’s concerns and investigation scope

The CMA expressed concerns that Unilever may be overstating the environmental friendliness of certain products through vague and broad claims, unclear statements on recyclability, and the use of ‘natural’ imagery and logos. 

The investigation will specifically focus on whether Unilever’s claims are misleading to consumers, drilling down into aspects such as:

  • Vague and broad statements: The CMA questions whether certain statements and language used by Unilever are too broad, potentially creating a misleading impression of the environmental impact of the products.
  • Exaggeration of ‘natural’ ingredients: The investigation will explore if claims about certain ingredients are presented in a way that may exaggerate the natural qualities of the product, leading to a potentially inaccurate perception.
  • Single aspect versus overall environmental impact: The CMA is concerned that claims focusing on a single aspect of a product may give a false impression of its overall environmental friendliness and recyclability.

CMA CEO statement

Sarah Cardell, CEO of the CMA, emphasised the importance of scrutinising environmental claims on widely used items such as cleaning products and toiletries. 

“Essentials like detergent, kitchen spray, and toiletries are the kinds of items you put in your supermarket basket every time you shop. 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.”

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“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,” Cardell added.

Unilever’s response and possible outcomes

Unilever, known for brands such as Cif, Dove, and Lynx, responded by expressing surprise and disappointment with the investigation. The company asserted that its claims are ‘transparent, and clear.’ 

The CMA has contacted Unilever and will outline its concerns in writing. Possible outcomes of the investigation include securing commitments from Unilever to change its operations, legal actions, or closing the case without further action.