Dove and Marmite maker Unilever to be investigated in UK over ‘greenwashing’


Unilever, the maker of Marmite, Domestos and Vaseline, is to be investigated by the UK’s competition watchdog over concerns that consumers are being misled by the company’s “green” claims on some essential household products.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Unilever may be overstating how green certain products are through the use of “vague and broad” claims, unclear statements about recyclability, and natural-looking images and logos such as green leaves.

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

“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.”

It could ask for undertakings from Unilever that commit the firm to change the way it operates; take the company to court; or close the case without further action.

The regulator is concerned that some claims by Unilever – which is also behind the Cif, Dove, Comfort, and Lynx brands – that focus on a single aspect of a product may suggest it 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.

Under its former chief executive Paul Polman, who stepped down in 2019, Unilever positioned itself as a global leader on sustainability. But the company is on track to sell 53bn non-reusable sachets containing anything from sauces to shampoo this year, breaking its commitment to switch away from single-use plastic, according to a recent report from Greenpeace. It said Unilever is set to miss its pledge to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025 by nearly a decade.

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