Unilever ‘surprised and disappointed’ by CMA greenwashing investigation

The CMA is investigating Unilever’s green credentials over claims it is misleading consumers. 

Unilever is facing an investigation by the UK government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) concerning its environmental claims.

The watchdog is exploring if consumers are being misled by the FMCG multinational over ‘green’ claims about its products. 

While the CMA isn’t highlighting the specific Unilever brands accused of greenwashing, which is the act of creating a false impression of how environmentally friendly your brand/products are, it pointed to kitchen products and toiletries as a focus.

Unilever’s brands in these categories include Cif, Dove and Domestos. 

It is concerned by Unilever’s “vague and broad” language about the environmental impact of its products, alongside claims some products are exaggerating how natural their ingredients are. The CMA is also looking at whether the recycling credentials of certain products are clear.

Primark chief customer officer: Greenwashing regulation could act as ‘deterrent’ on sustainabilityAlso under fire is Unilever’s use of colour. The CMA is investigating whether colours and imagery, notably the use of green leaves, gives the impression products are more environmentally friendly “than they actually are”. 

The CMA’s formal investigation into Unilever comes as part of the authority’s wider crackdown on FMCG greenwashing, which began in January 2023. 

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,” says Sarah Cardell, CEO at the CMA. 

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,” she adds. 

The investigation will increase chatter about the scrutiny brands are being put under regarding environmental claims. Primark’s chief customer officer Michelle McEttrick suggested earlier this year that greenwashing can be a difficult accusation for brands to avoid when trying to up their sustainability efforts.

She said the increase of regulation around greenwashing risks preventing brands from progressing on sustainability issues.

‘Surprised and disappointed’

The investigation’s progress depends on the evidence Unilever provides to address these claims, says the CMA. Possible outcomes range from securing assurance from Unilever that it will change how it operates, to taking the company to court – or closing the case with no further action. 

Unilever is “surprised and disappointed” by the investigation, 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,” says a company spokesperson. 

It adds:We use the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) to provide consumers with information on how to dispose of our packaging after use, and Unilever is a founding signatory of the UK Plastics Pact, which brings together the entire plastics packaging value chain to tackle the challenges around plastic waste.” 

Unilever says it will continue to cooperate with the CMA’s investigation.