H&M, Decathlon accused of unclear sustainability claims in the Netherlands

Since 2021, the Netherlands’s consumer rights authority has focused on investigating the sometimes misleading sustainability claims made by apparel brands. The Dutch CRA has focused its investigation on two international retailers in particular, H&M and Decathlon, both accused of not sufficiently explaining nor actually proving the sustainable features they claim some of their products have.

“Decathlon and H&M describe their products with generic terms such as ‘ecodesign’ and ‘conscious’ without clearly spelling out their sustainability benefits,” wrote CRA in a statement. As a result of the investigation, both retailers have pledged they will change their working methods and will inform customers more effectively, a commitment that the Dutch CRA will be monitoring for two years.

“Companies that promote their products with sustainability claims must ensure that these are correct, clear and verifiable. Otherwise, consumers will be misled,” added the CRA, which did not however impose sanctions on either retailer.

At the same time, Decathlon and H&M have respectively made donations of €400,000 and €500,000 to various organisations advocating sustainable development, especially in the apparel sector.

Contacted by FashionNetwork.com, Swedish group H&M acknowledged that its website’s sustainability information “could have been provided in a clearer and more comprehensive way,” and stated that “changes are under way,” with the goal of sharing more comprehensive data on its efforts towards sustainable development. The group also pointed out that the issues raised by the Dutch CRA “did not concern the dissemination of false information.”

In addition, H&M has decided to remove from its e-shop the mention ‘conscious choice’, which characterises a number of its products. An ongoing job that will be completed by the end of October.

As for Decathlon, it stated on its Dutch site that it is fully cooperating with the CRA and is currently working to improve how it “communicates about eco-design,” a term that refers, among other things, to material choices and production process optimisation.

Recently, other fashion brands have been singled out for their poor communication regarding the supposed sustainable nature of their products. As was the case of British fashion e-tailer Asos, the subject of an investigation by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority, following which it removed the ‘responsible edit’ section from its site. In June, Zero Waste France filed a complaint against Adidas and New Balance, claiming their commitment to environmentally friendly practices is “mere window dressing.”