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NEW YORK – A class action complaint against H&M has been filed in the US courts over its use of Higg Sustainability labels on garments. Plaintiff Chelsea Commodore claims H&M used Higg scorecards to justify charging premium prices for its ‘sustainably-made’ clothing. Commodore argues the majority of products H&M markets as being sustainably-made are “no more sustainable than items in [its] main collection, which are also not sustainable.” This, she argues, means customers pay a premium, “in the belief that they are buying truly sustainable and environmentally friendly clothing.”

The action claims H&M used Higg scorecards to target consumers who are willing to pay more for sustainable fashion – a growing sector of young consumers if numerous surveys are to be believed.

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Commodore alleges, “H&M has created an extensive marketing scheme to greenwash its products” to present them “as environmentally-friendly when they are not.”

Offering examples, one Sustainability Profile marketed by H&M claimed a dress was made with 20 per cent less water on average. An independent investigation by Quartz found the dress “was actually made with 20 per cent more water.”

Another example showed H&M presented “a particular product as being produced with 30 per cent less water” when the Higg website, which is where H&M procured such information, “showed that the item was ‘actually made with 31 per cent more water, making it worse than conventional materials.”

This second example suggests H&M itself did not fully understand the Higg MSI and how to use it (who does!?) rather than being a deliberate attempt to mislead.

Commodore accuses H&M of falsifying its Sustainability Profiles with “inaccurate and misleading data” claiming products are better for the environment than comparable garments, when they are not.” In the class action, it is claimed H&M did this for every Sustainability Profile scorecard.

The class action also claims H&M makes other misrepresentations concerning the sustainable nature of its products, including that its products are ‘conscious,’ a ‘conscious choice,’ a ‘shortcut to sustainable choices,’ made from ‘sustainable materials,’ ‘close the loop,’ and that H&M will prevent its textiles ‘from going to landfill’ through its recycling program.

The Conscious collection are claimed to contain “at least 50% sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester,” when in reality, the products “are comprised of indisputably unsustainable materials, like polyester,” which are “not sustainable, as polyester does not biodegrade, sheds toxic microfibers, and is not recyclable,” according to the class action.

Commodore also alleges H&M’s claims that “old clothes are simply turned into new garments, or that clothes will not end up in a landfill” are misleading. “Recycling solutions either do not exist or are not commercially available at scale for the vast majority of the products,” Commodore claims. “It would take H&M more than a decade to recycle what it sells in a matter of days.” 

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