The Norwegian Consumer Authority has come down hard on Scandinavian budget fashion powerhouse Hennes & Mauritz (H&M).
The authority says that the brand’s use of the term “Conscious” to indicate the clothes are sustainable and environmentally friendly falls foul of Norwegian law.
A spokesperson for the authority told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that H&M is making unsubstantiated claims that play on environmental emotions. They concluded that the advertising is “misleading” and that it violates the law.
The Norwegian Consumer Authority has sent a letter H&M in which they require that all marketing that features the specific sustainability claims must be changed.
The response from H&M
H&M responded to NRK by saying they are in the midst of a transformation to, among other things, “become 100% climate neutral.”
The company said they are pleased that the Norwegian Consumer Authority has highlighted the marketing of sustainable alternatives. They say they are in a good dialogue to see “how we can be even better at communicating the extensive work we do.”
However, H&M were much more aggressive in their reported comments to industry blog Ecotextile. A spokesperson claimed that the Norwegian Consumer Authority “doesn’t have the background or competence to evaluate” the clothing collection.
The collection in question is the Conscious line, which H&M describes as a “collection inspired by the wonders of planet earth.” The company describes the range of t-shirts, blouses and frocks as “sustainable fashion pieces that make you both look and feel good.”
The website also states that three new sustainably sourced materials have been introduced: citrus peel, pineapple leaves and algae biomass.
The Consumer Authority’s problem
Norway’s Consumer Authority is known for its tough stance on marketing. They often focus more on what marketing does not say.
Marketing campaigns are considered misleading if they omit information that consumers need to make informed decisions. It will also fall foul of the rules if information presented is unclear or ambiguous.
In the case of H&M, the problem is the lack of justification behind the sustainable claims. The fashion brand’s website contains a lot of information on the sustainable sources of much of its material. However, it falls short of describing which products do and don’t contain that specific material.
The company told Fortune that the Norwegian Consumer Authority is looking at the level of precision in the information connected to the Conscious range. “They’re not looking into whether our products are sustainable or not,” said a spokesperson.