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OSLO – Norway’s authorities have written to Swedish fashion giant H&M warning the company its use of Higg labels on clothing is likely to break the law. This follows the settlement of a test case against Norrøna this week. In a dramatic turn of events, the Norwegian Consumer Protection Authority has also advised the Sustainable Apparel Coalition it could face “economic sanctions” in Norway if similar, Higg-related breaches of its Marketing Control Act as in the Norrøna case are found after 1 September 2022.

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In its letter to the SAC, the authority says: “The Higg MSI being an international tool, there are probably traders also outside of Norway, but within the EU/EEA, who use the Higg MSI in marketing towards consumers. The NCA only has authority to ask for a stop of the relevant marketing in Norway. However, please be aware that the relevant regulations in the Norwegian Marketing Control Act is based on an harmonized EU directive, as explained in the Norrøna letter. What constitutes a breach of the Marketing Control Act, will thus presumably constitute a breach of the law in the other EU/EEA countries. For your information, the NCA has a close collaboration with the other countries’ consumer authorities through EU regulation 2017/2394 on consumer protection cooperation. We thus recommend that the SAC assesses whether it is necessary to change its practices accordingly towards partners using Higg MSI-based environmental claims towards consumers in other EU/EEA countries.”

The Norwegian Consumer Protection Authority has now settled a landmark case in which it ruled that sportswear retailer Norrøna’s use of Higg labels breaches advertising guidelines and is misleading to consumers. “Norrøna has based its advertising on the industry tool Higg MSI, which measures the environmental impact of various textiles,” the authority stated. “The Norwegian Consumer Protection Authority has concluded that this tool is not sufficient as a basis for the environmental claims they have used in marketing.”

The ruling, and warning to H&M, could potentially have seismic ramifications if other consumer watchdogs around the world follow the precedent laid down by this test case.

Apparel Insider understands the SAC had two urgent calls with members this week to discuss the escalating crisis.

In its letter to H&M, the authority states: “The NCA understand that H & M currently uses and / or is planning to use Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) data in marketing of garments. With this letter, we would like to emphasize that using the Higg MSI and / or data from the Higg MSI data in marketing towards consumers easily will be considered misleading and constitute a breach of the Marketing Control Act. The basis for this letter is that the NCA has concluded in a case against Norrøna Sport AS (Norrøna) regarding their use of the Higg MSI in marketing. The NCA have concluded that Norrøna’s marketing of products with environmental claims, by using data from the Higg MSI, is misleading to consumers and thus prohibited. We have asked Norrøna to change or remove the relevant marketing.

“The NCA has concluded in the Norrøna case specifically. Whether marketing towards consumers is misleading and prohibited under the Marketing Control Act must always be based on a case-by-case assessment of the relevant marketing. We have yet not made such assessments of H & M marketing practices. However, we consider that traders’ use of the Higg MSI and results from Higg MSI data in marketing towards consumes, easily will constitute a breach of the prohibition of misleading marketing practices, cf. the Marketing Control Act § 6, cf. § 7.”

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