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Are ‘Sustainable Lines’ based on lies?

Greenwashing, or green claims, is the practice of suggesting or even creating the impression that a service or a product is more environmentally friendly than competing goods or services. This definition has been provided by the European Commission in the matter of Directive 2005/29/EC on Unfair Commercial Practises [1].

The importance of the prevention of greenwashing is that when buying products consumers may take into consideration the environmental impact of their purchases and thus be misled by marketing and advertising campaigns that have increasingly put more emphasis on how “green” a product is. On the other hand, traders who truthfully make environmental claims must also be protected. 

Despite the lack of a harmonised body of legislation on the topic, Directive 2005/29/EC is the authoritative law for the time being. Such Directive focuses on business-to-consumer commercial practises and defines misleading commercial practises under art 6(1) (a) and (b) as containing false information and being untruthful and therefore being able to deceive the average consumer causing them to take a decision they would not have taken otherwise.

In the realm of clothing and fashion, greenwashing has become a fairly popular practice as brands try to cater for the new consumer demands. However, this mainly concerns fast fashion brands such as H&M, Zara and Uniqlo [2]. 

Laura Whitmore X Primark

The importance of influencers and their contribution to greenwashing is clearly exemplified by three instances: Laura Whitmore X Primark, Héctor Bellerín X H&M and Maisie Williams X H&M. Laura Whitmore, who is a TV presenter, model and actress with an instagram following of 1.5M, announced in March 2021 that she was going to be the new ambassador for Primark Cares, the sustainable initiative of the brand. She took on this role for 12 months and claimed that she has a vital role “in making change for the future” [3]. Yet, her claims of sustainability are trumped by the brand’s history of violations of human rights and the environment. One very grave instance occurred in 2013 when Primark was linked to the Rana Plaza factory collapse [4]. A more recent event was the accusation that one of the brand’s supplier factories in Myanmar locked in the workers to prevent them from joining the protests against the coup [5]. 

Maisie Williams X HM

Another instance has been the appointment of Maisie Williams as the Global Sustainability Ambassador of H&M in April 2021 [6]. Maisie is a Game of Thrones star with a 10.3M instagram following. Her role is part of the promise by H&M that by 2030 all their fabrics will be recycled and sustainably-sourced. Yet, waves of criticism have pointed out that this is greenwashing and the brand is using celebrities with the scope of fuelling consumerism. Similarly to Primark, H&M has a history of violating worker’s rights and contributing to the environmentally polluting practises of the fashion industry which is still largely responsible for the current climate crisis.

Héctor Bellerín X H&M

Another example is the line created by footballer  Héctor Bellerín in collaboration with H&M which is claimed to be sustainably made, yet all the issues raised above still exist. 

The impact of influencers to the practice of greenwashing rests in the marketing scheme to which they belong that continues to promote over-consumption and mass-production and focuses more on trends than the ethics of clothing production. Until these issues are seriously tackled by fashion brands their “sustainability line” can be no better than all the others. 

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/pdf/green_claims/en.pdf

[2] https://earth.org/greenwashing-companies-corporations/

[3] https://flockmag.com/fast-fashion-influencers-and-the-great-greenwash/

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/business-24646942

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/mar/13/primark-supplier-accused-of-locking-workers-in-factory-in-myanmar-protests

[6] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/h-m-game-of-thrones-maisie-williams-sustainability-b1830483.html

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