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The Imagine Better Series

Watch Futerra's webinar with Aja Barber and The CMA

A digital event with Aja Barber and The CMA

09.03.22Aisha Ayoade

On Tuesday 18th January 2022, writer and fashion consultant Aja Barber and Cecilia Parker Aranha, Consumer Protection Director, Competition and Markets Authority joined us for our first Imagine Better Series webinar of 2022.

In partnership with the CMA, this digital event marked the launch of their new Green Claims Code – a guide to help businesses understand and comply with their existing obligations under consumer protection law when making environmental claims. And we were incredibly lucky to be joined by Aja Barber, who has recently released her book Consumed: The Need for Collective Change; Colonialism, Climate Change and Consumerism.

We know that more and more people want to buy products and brands that make a positive impact on the world. But with the proliferation of greenwashing, consumer trust is eroding and regulators are now stepping in. Likewise, there are new calls to action to fundamentally transform consumer culture and consumerism.

The key question we set out to answer was how can businesses, brands and consumers navigate this evolving landscape?

Here are some of the key highlights.

The role for brands

The main purpose of the CMA’s Green Claims Guide is to help businesses understand and comply with their existing obligations under consumer protection law when making environmental claims. The guidance sets out principles which are designed to help businesses comply with the law. It explains each of these principles and provides examples of how each of them applies, as well as more detailed case studies where multiple principles apply. The guidance also sets out the legal framework on which these principles are based.

As of January 14th 2022, the CMA has launched a review of environmental claims in the ‘fashion retail sector to ascertain whether fashion retail businesses are compliant with consumer protection law. The investigation into the fashion sector will scrutinise green claims considering consumer protection laws and in particular consider claims concerning the use of recycled materials as well as “sustainable” branded clothing ranges. And, of course, action is expected against infringing businesses.

Whilst the fashion industry is the first under the spotlight, the CMA reported that any sector where they found “significant concerns” could be prioritised. According to Cecilia: "it’s difficult to tackle some of these issues without quite radical reform. It’s a field that crosses several regulators. It should be looked at from a sustainability perspective, and a mental health perspective. Fashion is an area that is not regulated and one where we thought we could make a difference quickly.”

If a business fails to comply with consumer protection law, the CMA (and other bodies, e.g. the Trading Standards Agency) can initiate court proceedings. In addition, in some cases, the business may be required to compensate consumers harmed by the breach and could also face legal action from consumers.

Consumer behaviour change

Consumers are becoming more aware of greenwashing and its power to exploit their genuine environmental concerns, which in turn generates confusion and scepticism around all products promoting green credentials.

As an author and influencer, Aja Barber has the platform and following to encourage behaviour change. In Aja’s words: “The minute my platform started to grow, I looked around and realised that the way of monetising online platforms was selling products I did not feel comfortable selling to people. I was already in a space where I was trying to get people to think about buying better and buying differently. This space of Instagram needs clear-cut, sustainability information that is not clouded by a veil of advertising. You can’t be as honest as you’d like to be on Instagram. But, I made a pledge to my readership that I would never take a dollar from fast-fashion. We can talk about sustainability as much as we want, but if we encourage people to buy new things everyday - then you are aiding the system that is detrimental to the planet.”

As an expert in consumer habits and behaviours, Aja Barber understands that making the decision to change consumption habits is no easy feat. “One of the big problems I see with the fashion industry in general is that people are scared. I think most people understand who the worst culprits are, what needs to change, but we are in a world where everyone needs to pay their bills. We need to eat and we need to keep the lights on.”

"We can talk about sustainability as much as we want, but if we encourage people to buy new things everyday - then you are aiding the system that is detrimental to the planet.”

As a business or as a consumer, being honest and holding yourself and your favourite brands accountable can’t always be done overnight. One of the biggest takeaways from this webinar is summarised by a question posed by Cecilia Parker Aranha urging us all to ask ourselves: “What can we do with the powers we currently have to support this journey that the whole planet needs to go on to reduce our consumption?” 

New Frontiers of Consumption and Compliance with Aja Barber and CMA

A huge thank you to Futerra’s Group CEO, Lucy Shea for hosting this event and to Fashion Consultant and author of Consumed, Aja Barber and Cecilia Parker Aranha, Consumer Protection Director at Competition and Markets Authority, as well as to the attendees for their probing and inspiring questions.

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