An internet sweep by a group of consumer agencies throughout the world, including Consumer Protection in Western Australia, has uncovered potentially misleading environmental claims by an alarming number of online traders.
The annual global sweep, conducted by members of the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN), found a massive 40 per cent of websites scrutinised were making environmental claims or were using eco-friendly brand names or language that wasn’t supported by evidence.
The results from the ICPEN sweep, which was carried out on 9-27 November 2020, have now been analysed. Coordinated this year by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, a total of 1,095 websites were randomly selected and investigated, for the first time, with a focus on misleading environmental claims. Other Australian agencies involved were the ACCC, Office of Fair Trading Queensland and NSW Fair Trading.
A total of 74 Australian traders were targeted and concerns were raised about one third of them. Concerns included:
Vague claims and unclear language, including terms such as ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ or reference to ‘natural products’, without adequate explanation or evidence of the claims;
Own brand eco logos and labels not associated with an accredited organisation;
Hiding or omitting certain information, such as a product’s pollution levels, to appear more eco-friendly.
WA Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping said the international sweep looked at websites promoting products and services across a range of sectors, including clothes, cosmetics and food.
“Finding four in ten websites with potentially misleading environmental claims is quite alarming and goes to show that, without clear evidence being provided, consumers should be dubious of eco-friendly statements being made by online traders,” Ms Chopping said.
“Companies that make false or misleading claims are effectively stealing customers from traders who are offering products with a genuine environmental benefit. Consumers should be able to easily choose between those traders that are doing the right thing for the environment and those who are not.
“At this early stage, regulators have not concluded that consumer protection laws have been broken, but the traders identified will now come under greater scrutiny and action will be taken if evidence of misleading consumers is found.
“Consumers should look past the logo, slogans and packaging which may contain images of nature, fruit or farms and read the ingredients label. They should ask traders to provide evidence of their green practices and claims, such as independent assessments of the eco-friendly nature or ingredients of their products as well as proof of any accreditations, affiliations or endorsements from environmental organisations.”