ACCC cracks down on greenwashing and fake reviews

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced two internet sweeps targeting misleading environmental and sustainability marketing and fake online business reviews.

As part of their broader compliance and enforcement priorities for 2022-23, the ACCC will conduct both sweeps over the coming weeks. The first aims to identify businesses and industries that misled the public through digital marketing and advertising.

At least 200 sites will be assessed across targeted sectors, including energy, vehicles, household products and appliances, food and drink packaging, cosmetics, clothing and footwear.

Delia Rickard, Chair of the ACCC, said greenwashing is problematic as consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability and often purchase products based on a business’s environmental or green credentials.

“As consumers become increasingly interested in purchasing sustainable products, there are growing concerns that some businesses are falsely promoting their environmental or green credentials,” she said.

“Misleading claims about products or services undermine consumer trust and confidence in the market. This sweep forms a core part of our work in actively monitoring for ‘greenwashing’ in the market and will help inform what steps businesses can take to improve the integrity of their environmental claims.

“In looking at claims we are concerned about what the ordinary consumer will understand the claim to mean. The ACCC won’t hesitate to take enforcement action where we see that consumers are being misled or deceived by green claims,” said Rickard.

The second sweep will target fake or misleading reviews and testimonials on the business’s websites, social pages and third-party review platforms. The first of a series of smaller sweeps focused on deceptive practices in the digital marketplace. A second effort will target influencer endorsements that fail to disclose sponsorship or advertising.

“We are looking to identify businesses, review platforms or sectors where there is a pattern of misleading online reviews and testimonials that have the potential to cause significant consumer or small business harm,” said Rickard.

“Both positive and negative reviews and testimonials, including those that are incentivised, can be false or misleading, particularly if they are presented as impartial but are not.

“The sweeps will be followed up with compliance, education and potential enforcement activities and we also want to improve awareness to enable consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.”

The ACCC’s findings will be published once the results have been gathered and analysed. 

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