It is generally known that brands have long used the message of frequently wholly nonexistent sustainability to sell their products without, furthermore, being under pressure from regulators or consumers. However, the situation appears to be changing in recent years, partly as a result of rising consumer sustainability literacy. H&M is aware of this because it was sued for allegedly utilizing false sustainability statements this summer, which attracted media attention. The Fashion Law said that H&M is dealing with yet another class action lawsuit for promoting fast-fashion apparel and accessories as sustainable.
On November 3, the complaint was submitted to a federal court in Missouri. The plaintiffs, Abraham Lizama and Marc Doten, assert that H&M used unfair, dishonest, and misleading business practices when marketing and selling its brand of eco-friendly clothes, the Conscious Choice Collection. The two contend that the Swedish apparel behemoth advertises them as such, breaking the laws of multiple states, including Missouri and California. The two informed The Fashion Law that “consumers have recently become considerably more conscious and sensitive to the influence that apparel and household products have on the environment.” The plaintiffs claimed that “consumers are ready to pay more for ethically manufactured items,” including those that don’t harm the environment, and that “as a result, demand for green, sustainable, and environmentally friendly products has soared.” In particular, they said that despite the fact that H&M’s items “are not created from sustainable and environmentally friendly materials,” the retailer nonetheless markets and labels them as Conscious Choice products. Reading remarks on the brand’s website that employ clean and natural environments to make the green appeal even more credible will also reveal the confusing sustainability story.
As a result, consumers are being misled by H&M’s marketing and “sustainable” labeling, which may have served to increase revenue and gain an advantage over competitors who are behaving lawfully. The plaintiffs made clear that they would not have purchased Conscious Choice’s products had they known they were not made of sustainable and/or environmentally friendly materials. They chosen to purchase, they would have paid “a greatly reduced price” Against this backdrop, the plaintiffs again alleged that H&M committed negligent misrepresentations and fraud in violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, the California Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices Law, the California Consumers Legal Remedy Act, and the California Business and Professions Code, which generally prohibit parties from engaging in “unlawful, unfair, and/or deceptive business practices and from making misleading statements and fraudulent claims. In addition to class action certification, the plaintiffs are seeking, among other things, declaratory relief, damages (above the $5 million threshold for class actions), an order requiring H&M to “immediately cease selling products that violate the law,” and a corrective advertising campaign. Analysts expect environmental organizations and regulators to take a closer look at the veracity of companies’ claims about their environmental, social and governance efforts.