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Going forward, Decathlon and H&M will provide better information about sustainability to consumers

Sporting goods retail chain Decathlon and clothing retail chain H&M have made commitments to the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) promising to adjust or no longer use sustainability claims on their clothes and/or websites. The two chains have committed to informing consumers more clearly in order to minimize the risk of misleading practices involving sustainability claims. In addition, they will make donations of 400,000 euros and 500,000 euros, respectively, to different sustainable causes to compensate for their use of unclear and insufficiently substantiated sustainability claims. Decathlon and H&M have made these commitments following an ACM investigation. ACM will therefore not impose any sanctions. 

Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: ‘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. We also welcome their commitment to donate generous sums of money to sustainable causes as compensations for their vague sustainability claims. These donations go to independent organizations that contribute towards sustainability and clothing.’ 

What was this case about? 

ACM has seen many potentially misleading sustainability claims in the clothing sector. That is why, in the spring of 2021, ACM asked clothing retailers to take a critical look at their claims. ACM subsequently continued its investigation into Decathlon and H&M, among other retail chains. The investigation revealed, for example, that Decathlon and H&M offered their products using general terms such as “Ecodesign” and “Conscious“ without immediately specifying clearly the sustainability benefits with the claim. 

In the course of the investigation, the two retailers indicated they were willing to adjust their practices, and to make commitments. ACM will enforce compliance with these commitments over the next two years. 

Guidelines regarding sustainability claims

Businesses that wish to promote their products using sustainability claims must make sure that such claims are correct, clear, and verifiable. Otherwise, consumers will be misled. ACM examines in different sectors whether businesses use sustainability claims in accordance with the rules. ACM has explained the rules in its Guidelines regarding sustainability claims. These contain five rules of thumb for businesses that wish to use sustainability claims. The five rules of thumb for honest sustainability claims are:

  1. Make clear what sustainability benefit the product offers
  2. Substantiate your sustainability claims with facts, and keep them up-to-date
  3. Comparisons with other products, services, or companies must be fair
  4. Be honest and specific about your company’s efforts with regard to sustainability
  5. Make sure that visual claims and labels are useful to consumers, not confusing

ACM will continue to keep a close watch on the clothing sector. ACM cannot rule out that, if it establishes a violation in the future, it will impose fines.

ACM and sustainability 

ACM ensures that markets work for people and businesses, now and in the future. Sustainable products and consumption are important in the transition to a more sustainable society. With its oversight over sustainability claims, ACM plays its part in that process. Consumers must be able to make sustainable choices with confidence, and businesses that undertake sustainability efforts must be protected against businesses compete unfairly by using misleading claims. In addition, ACM wishes to create the right conditions for promoting the sustainability transition. ACM eliminates obstacles, and offers leeway where needed and possible.

See also:

13-9-2022 Commitment decision for Decathlon regarding sustainability claims
13-9-2022 Commitment decision for H&M regarding sustainability claims 
Guidelines sustainability claims |
Arrangements between businesses regarding sustainability | (in Dutch) 
6 tips when purchasing sustainable products and services | ACM ConsuWijzer  (in Dutch)