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WATCH: H&M to remove sustainability labels from products following investigation by regulator

Fashion retailer H&M and sporting goods chain Decathlon have made commitments to the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) to remove sustainability-related labels from their products and websites, following an investigation by the Dutch regulator.

ESG Today reported last week that the ACM, in a statement, said that H&M and Decathlon have also agreed to provide donations of €400,000 (R6.933 million) and €500,000 (R8.67 million), respectively, to sustainable causes, “to compensate for their use of unclear and insufficiently substantiated sustainability claims.”

The agreements follow an increased focus on sustainability issues by the regulator, beginning with a study in 2020 into the sustainability claims made by businesses, in light of a significant increase in claims emerging across various sectors.

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After sending out warning letters to over 170 companies operating within the Netherlands, the ACM looked more closely into ten clothing sector businesses, chosen based on revenue, and then launched investigations into six of the companies, including H&M and Decathlon, where the regulator found the most potentially misleading sustainability claims.

In its investigation, ACM found that H&M uses sustainability claims such as “Conscious” and “Conscious Choice,” without explaining what they mean, or providing a description of the sustainability benefits of the products.

Additionally, ACM pointed out several practices by the company in which it appears to make sustainability claims about products that may incorrectly give the impression of their sustainability benefits, or guarantees that a specific product was made with sustainable materials.

ACM listed several commitments by H&M following the investigation, including removing the “Conscious” and “Conscious Choice” labels, at least until it can comply with relevant rules and regulations, and assess how “it can communicate best to consumers the sustainability benefits of its products.”

H&M will also remove the “more-sustainable materials” heading from product descriptions, and add information in brackets if more-sustainable materials have been used, among other changes on its website relating to sustainability claims of its product backgrounds.

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ACM board member Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh said in a press release that, “consumers that wish to make sustainable choices must be able to have confidence in the veracity of the claims that businesses make on their products or websites.”

“We are pleased to see that these companies have acknowledged that they should have informed consumers more clearly about the sustainability aspects of their products and that they will adjust various sustainability claims and their substantiations. They will also take measures to inform their customers better in the future,” van den Bergh concluded.

ESG Today reached out to H&M for comment on the regulator’s findings and the company’s new commitments. H&M admitted that the sustainability information on its website could have been more clear and more comprehensive.

“Changes are being made through which we commit to better informing our customers about the composition of our products and thus improving our sustainability communications. Moving forward, it is our aim to do better in sharing more comprehensive and elaborate information about our sustainability efforts,” the company said.

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