Fashion retailer H&M has been facing a lawsuit accusing the company of misleading consumers with false sustainability claims. The proposed class-action complaint alleges that H&M’s advertising is “designed to mislead” customers into believing that its Conscious Choice products are environmentally friendly and sustainable.
The lawsuit was initiated by Chelsea Commodore, a marketing student at SUNY New Paltz, who claimed she had overpaid for a fashion piece marketed as “conscious” but was not actually sustainable. The allegations against H&M were further supported by an investigation published in Quartz on June 28, 2022, which was alleged to reveal that H&M’s environmental scorecards for its clothing were misleading and, in some cases, outright deceptive.
According to the complaint, H&M‘s claims that its products are a “Conscious Choice,” more “sustainable,” and environmentally friendly are false, misleading, and deceptive because they are not made from sustainable and environment-friendly materials that are less harmful and more beneficial to the environment. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleged that H&M’s recycling program claims to prevent clothes from going to landfill are also misleading, as recycling options are not commercially available on a large enough scale. In fact, it would take H&M more than a decade to recycle what it sells in just a few days.
In response to the accusations of greenwashing, H&M had pledged to accelerate its efforts and become fully transparent about its environmental impact by 2023. This includes publishing a list of suppliers and disclosing the environmental impact of each product and other relevant data.
H&M was found not guilty of violating antitrust laws, H&M will not face any significant penalties. Individual violators can be fined up to $1 million and sentenced to up to 10 years in federal prison for each offense, while corporations can be fined up to $100 million for each offense. In some circumstances, the maximum fines can go even higher than the Sherman Act maximums to twice the gain or loss involved.
The lawsuit against H&M serves as a reminder for companies to ensure that their sustainability claims are backed by solid evidence and that the language they use is closely tailored to that evidence. As consumers become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases, companies must be transparent and honest about their sustainability efforts to avoid legal repercussions and potential damage to their brand reputation.