The CMA said it planned to scrutinise environmental claims being made by the business, which is known for household name mass brands such as Dove, to make sure consumers aren’t being misled.
The move comes as part of the CMA’s wider investigation into greenwashing.
According to the CMA, its initial review uncovered a range of concerning practices. Its concerns included:
- certain statements and language used by Unilever appear vague and broad, and may mislead shoppers regarding the environmental impact of those products.
- claims about some ingredients are presented in a way that may exaggerate how ‘natural’ the product is, and so may create an inaccurate or misleading impression.
- claims focusing on a single aspect of a product may suggest it is environmentally friendly.
- certain green claims – particularly in relation to recyclability – may be unclear, as they fail to specify whether they relate to all or part of a product, or packaging.
- Unilever’s use of colours and imagery – such as green leaves – may create the overall impression that some products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.
"Surprised and disappointed"
When asked about the investigation, a spokesperson from Unilever said it was “surprised and disappointed with the CMA’s announcement" and that it would "refute that our claims are in any way misleading.”
They continued: “Unilever is committed to making responsible claims about the benefits of our products on our packs and to these being transparent and clear, and we have robust processes in place to make sure any claims can be substantiated.
They also highlighted that Unilever uses an On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) to provide consumers with information on how to dispose of our packaging after use, and that the company is a founding signatory of the UK Plastics Pact, which they said “brings together the entire plastics packaging value chain to tackle the challenges around plastic waste.”
“We will continue to co-operate with the CMA and fully comply with further requests for information,” they added.
Worried about misleading 'green' claims
Meanwhile, Chief Executive of the CMA, Sarah Cardell, said: “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.
Cardell said that the evidence seen so far had 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,” she said.
The CMA said it will use its information-gathering powers to obtain further evidence to progress its investigation. It said that potential outcomes could include "securing undertakings from Unilever that commit the firm to change the way it operates; taking the company to court; or closing the case without further action."
In January 2022, the CMA launched a compliance review of environmental claims in the fashion retail sector, where an estimated £54 billion is spent by consumers annually. Following this, it opened an investigation into environmental claims made by ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda.
Then in January 2023, it expanded its work on environmental claims to include fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).