Marianne Calnan
Dec 13, 2023

Unilever investigated by CMA over green claims in ads

Initial review uncovered a 'range of concerning practices' in Unilever’s marketing.

Unilever: The CMA did not confirm which brands, products or ads the investigation is covering
Unilever: The CMA did not confirm which brands, products or ads the investigation is covering

Unilever is being investigated by the CMA for potentially “overstating” environmental claims in its ads.

The FMCG giant, which includes brands such as Dove, Lynx, Marmite and Vaseline, is being probed by the competition regulator following an initial review that uncovered a “range of concerning practices” used in Unilever’s marketing. 

The CMA said consumers “may be misled” by Unilever’s “green” claims regarding some of its products. It added that Unilever may be overstating how green certain products are through the use of “vague and broad” claims and unclear statements about recyclability.

The competition watchdog is also concerned that some of Unilever’s sustainability-focused claims in its ads that focus on a single aspect of a product could suggest that the item is environmentally friendly as a whole, that claims about some ingredients may exaggerate how natural the product is, and that its use of colours and imagery – such as green leaves – create the impression that some products are greener than they actually are.

Neither the CMA or Unilever confirmed which specific ads, brands or products are being considered in the investigation.

The inquiry forms part of a wider crackdown by the CMA looking into greenwashing, after it expanded its work on environmental claims to include consumer goods in January 2023. The wider investigation has already seen eco-friendly claims by Asos, Boohoo and Asda’s George brand examined.

A spokesperson for Unilever told Campaign it is “surprised and disappointed” with the CMA’s announcement and “refutes” that its claims are “in any way misleading”.

“Unilever is committed to making responsible claims about the benefits of our products on our packs and to these being transparent and clear, and we have robust processes in place to make sure any claims can be substantiated. We will continue to cooperate with the CMA and fully comply with further requests for information.” 

Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said: “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."

Cardell added: “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.”

Potential outcomes following the probe 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.

Campaign UK

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