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UK watchdog secures changes from Asos, Boohoo, Asda on green claims; Xi Jinping meets US CEOs – business live


UK watchdog secures changes from Asos, Boohoo, Asda on green claims

Millions of consumers can expect to see accurate and clear green claims when shopping for fashion items with Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda, Britain’s competition watchdog said.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the companies had signed formal agreements to change the way they display, describe, and promote their green credentials.

The CMA launched an investigation into ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda in July 2022, having identified concerns of possible greenwashing during an initial review of the fashion sector.

Sarah Cardell, the CMA’s chief executive, said:

Following our action, the millions of people who shop with these well-known businesses can now have confidence in the green claims they see.

This also marks a turning point for the industry. The commitments set a benchmark for how fashion retailers should be marketing their products, and we expect the sector as a whole – from high street to designer brands – to take note and review their own practices.

The undertakings include:

  • Green claims: ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda must ensure all green claims are accurate and not misleading, in plain language

  • Statements regarding fabrics: Statements made about materials in green ranges must be specific and clear, such as ‘organic’ or ‘recycled’, rather than ambiguous – using terms like ‘eco’, ‘responsible’, or ‘sustainable’. The percentage of recycled or organic fibres must be clearly displayed and easy for customers to see.

  • Criteria for green ranges: The criteria used to decide which products are included in environmental collections – such as ASOS’s former ‘Responsible edit’, Boohoo’s ‘Ready for the Future’ range, and George at Asda’s ‘George for Good’, and any further ranges – must be clearly set out and detail any minimum requirements.

  • Use of imagery: The firms must not use ‘natural’ imagery – such as green leaves – logos, or icons in a way that suggests a product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

  • Product filters: Search filters must be accurate, only showing items that meet the filter requirements – for example, if a consumer uses a filter to show ‘recycled’ trousers, only trousers made from mainly recycled materials should be shown.

  • Environmental targets: Any claims made to consumers about environmental targets must be supported by a clear and verifiable strategy, and customers must be able to access more details about it. Such information should include what the target is aiming to achieve, the date by which it is expected to be met, and how the company in question will seek to achieve that target.

  • Accreditation schemes: Statements made by the companies about accreditation schemes and standards must not be misleading. For example, statements must make clear whether an accreditation applies to particular products or to the firm’s wider practices.

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Key events

FCA finds concerns over insurers’ valuation of stolen cars

Britain’s financial regulator has identified shortcomings in how some motor insurance firms are valuing written-off or stolen vehicles.

A review by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has found evidence that suggests some firms are offering their customers less than their written-off or stolen vehicle is worth and, in some cases, are only increasing that offer when a customer complains.

This comes despite the FCA’s previous warnings that insurers must not undervalue cars or other insured items when settling claims.

The regulator is talking to the firms included in its review to ensure they make improvements to address its findings.

Sheldon Mills, executive director for consumers and competition at the FCA, said:

Having your vehicle written off or stolen can be intensely stressful and we expect firms to offer the right support to help their customers.

We expect all motor insurers to take note of our findings and we are engaging directly with those that have issues that need to be addressed.

Insurers must handle claims promptly and fairly under FCA rules.

Customers who think their claim may have been undervalued can complain to their insurer and then to the Financial Ombudsman Service if their complaint is not resolved.

Here is some reaction to our main story:

Asda, Asos and Boohoo must avoid making misleading claims about the green credentials of their clothes in future, after a regulatory crackdown on “greenwashing” in the fashion sector.

The three retailers will have to file regular reports to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after an investigation started in 2022 examined concerns that the companies were using vague claims to bolster their environmental credentials.

The global fashion industry is a major polluter and source of carbon emissions but consumers in wealthy countries are increasingly interested in shifting spending towards products that cause less environmental harm.

The UK competition regulator is concerned that shoppers are being misled by companies, who risk breaching consumer law in their efforts to appeal to green consumers.

Christopher Eberhardt, counsel at global law firm Ashurst, said:

This is the first example of enforcement action against misleading green claims by the CMA under consumer law. It therefore reminds all businesses of the importance of ensuring that their green or sustainability claims are accurate and not misleading.

The undertakings offered by the retailers largely build on the existing principles under the CMA’s Green Claims Code. They also include provisions requiring the retailers to ensure their supply chains meet requisite standards, which is a challenge many businesses face when making and verifying claims about their products.

The CMA has also reminded all businesses that, once its new consumer enforcement powers enter into force later this year, they could face substantial fines for misleading green claims.

Here are some photos of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s meeting with the bosses of top US companies, posted on X by Hua Chunying, assistant minister of foreign affairs.

Sean Stein, chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, told the Financial Times:

The [US] companies that are here to serve the China market or to sell into China, I think they’re a little more positive than they were, say, a year out. There are still deep structural issues that are holding the economy back, but the cyclical part seems to have improved, and so where they are in the business cycle is in a better place.

As long as the two sides see each other as partners, respect each other, coexist in peace and cooperate for win-win results, China-US relations will get better. It is important that people from different sectors of our societies interact, communicate and cooperate more. pic.twitter.com/ORJMoxsvZy

— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) March 27, 2024

President Xi stressed that the state of the China-US relations, whether there will be confrontation or cooperation, bears on the well-being of the two peoples and the future of humanity. Our respective success is each other’s opportunity. pic.twitter.com/n8rsQ3JF3P

— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) March 27, 2024

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Study of UK’s top bamboo loo rolls show some are made from other woods

In the bathrooms of the ecologically conscious, bamboo toilet paper is the new bottom line – a supposedly green alternative to the bog-standard pulp-based loo roll that requires the chopping down of 1m trees a year, just to be flushed down the pan.

But findings from consumer watchdog Which? will wipe away that smug feeling: samples of three out of the five of the UK’s top bamboo brands were actually made from other woods, some of them heavily implicated in deforestation.

In the worst case, only 2.7% of the fibre in the loo paper came from bamboo. Other woods found in the products included acacia, a species associated with deforestation in Indonesia, and eucalyptus, another fast-growing tropical hardwood species.

Toilet paper in a bathroom in a home. Photograph: Jeppe Gustafsson/REX/Shutterstock

Which? commissioned a “loodunnit?” analysis of the top five eco loo roll brands claiming to be made from bamboo or 100% bamboo. Bumboo contained only 2.7% bamboo-like grass fibres, while Naked Sprout contained about 4%, and Bazoo toilet paper was about 26% bamboo.

The findings may indicate more widespread issues: the three brands receiving a smack on the bottom from Which? used bamboo from China, and are all certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a body that offers certification to responsibly managed forests and products made from them. FSC told the Guardian it would conduct an investigation.

H&M beats forecasts, spring collections ‘well received’

Swedish fashion giant H&M beat profit expectations, as its new boss Daniel Erver said its spring collections were well received and sales showed signs of recovery.

Shares in the world’s second-largest listed fashion retailer jumped nearly 13% after it posted an operating profit of 2.08bn krona (£160m) in the first quarter, up from 725m krona a year ago and above the 1.43bn krona forecast by analysts.

Sales dropped 2% in the first quarter, less than analysts expected, while sales at the start of the second quarter rose by 2%, reflecting stronger demand for H&M clothing and accessories.

Erver, who has been in the job for two months, said:

The quarter’s sales gradually improved during February with well-received spring collections, which is a positive sign that we are on the right track. Our top priority is to strengthen sales.

The retailer, known for £24.99 jeans and £19.99 dresses, has moved into more expensive clothing, selling leather trousers for £229.99 and, under its Cos brand, coats for £240.

It is competing with the Singapore-based online fast-fashion retailer Shein at the lower end of the market, and its bigger rival, Spain’s Zara.

The logo of Swedish fashion label H&M is seen outside a store in Vienna, Austria. Photograph: Leonhard Föger/Reuters
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Riksbank: ‘Policy rate may well be cut in May or June’

Sweden’s Riksbank, the oldest central bank in the world, kept its benchmark interest rate at 4% today, but said a cut could come as soon as May.

The central bank said:

The executive board wants further confirmation that inflation will stabilise close to the target.

If the inflation prospects remain favourable, the policy rate may well be cut in May or June.

The Riksbank would be the second central bank in the world to lower borrowing costs, after the Swiss National Bank cut its key rate to 1.5% from 1.75% in a surprise move last week.

Markets are expecting the US Federal Reserve and the European Central bank to wait until at least June.

Turning to the Bank of England, City traders are pricing in three quarter-point interest rate cuts this year, with a possible first downward shift from as early as May or June. Money markets give a 20% chance of a cut in May, before the Fed or the ECB.

Riksbank Governor Erik Thedeen. Photograph: Tt News Agency/Reuters
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DS Smith shares rise after new takeover offer

Shares in the British packaging group DS Smith rose after it announced that it is in discussions with a New York-listed paper producer over a £5.7bn takeover offer.

London-based DS Smith confirmed that it is in talks with International Paper, the largest paper and pulp company in the world, over an all-stock offer from the US company, which gatecrashed an agreed £5.1bn deal between DS Smith and Mondi, another London-listed group.

DS Smith shares rose 7.4% to 386.50p today.

Under the terms of the proposal, DS Smith shareholders would receive 0.1285 shares in International Paper for each share they own in DS Smith. If the proposed deal goes through, DS Smith shareholders will own just over a third (33.8%) of the combined company.

The proposal values each DS Smith share at 415p, based on International Paper’s closing price of $40.85 on Monday, the UK company said.

The offer from International Paper, based in Memphis, Tennessee, represents a premium of 48% to DS Smith’s closing price on 7 February, the day before Mondi, based in Weybridge, pounced on its smaller rival with a preliminary bid.

DS Smith said:

The board acknowledges the strategic merits and potential for value creation through a combination with International Paper. Accordingly, the board is progressing its discussions with International Paper regarding the proposal.

DS Smith Impact Centre, Fordham, Suffolk. Photograph: Joshua Bright/The Guardian
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The CMA has also issued an open letter to the sector, urging fashion retailers to review their claims and practices in light of the changes, which set a benchmark for the industry.

UK watchdog secures changes from Asos, Boohoo, Asda on green claims

Millions of consumers can expect to see accurate and clear green claims when shopping for fashion items with Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda, Britain’s competition watchdog said.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the companies had signed formal agreements to change the way they display, describe, and promote their green credentials.

The CMA launched an investigation into ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda in July 2022, having identified concerns of possible greenwashing during an initial review of the fashion sector.

Sarah Cardell, the CMA’s chief executive, said:

Following our action, the millions of people who shop with these well-known businesses can now have confidence in the green claims they see.

This also marks a turning point for the industry. The commitments set a benchmark for how fashion retailers should be marketing their products, and we expect the sector as a whole – from high street to designer brands – to take note and review their own practices.

The undertakings include:

  • Green claims: ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda must ensure all green claims are accurate and not misleading, in plain language

  • Statements regarding fabrics: Statements made about materials in green ranges must be specific and clear, such as ‘organic’ or ‘recycled’, rather than ambiguous – using terms like ‘eco’, ‘responsible’, or ‘sustainable’. The percentage of recycled or organic fibres must be clearly displayed and easy for customers to see.

  • Criteria for green ranges: The criteria used to decide which products are included in environmental collections – such as ASOS’s former ‘Responsible edit’, Boohoo’s ‘Ready for the Future’ range, and George at Asda’s ‘George for Good’, and any further ranges – must be clearly set out and detail any minimum requirements.

  • Use of imagery: The firms must not use ‘natural’ imagery – such as green leaves – logos, or icons in a way that suggests a product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

  • Product filters: Search filters must be accurate, only showing items that meet the filter requirements – for example, if a consumer uses a filter to show ‘recycled’ trousers, only trousers made from mainly recycled materials should be shown.

  • Environmental targets: Any claims made to consumers about environmental targets must be supported by a clear and verifiable strategy, and customers must be able to access more details about it. Such information should include what the target is aiming to achieve, the date by which it is expected to be met, and how the company in question will seek to achieve that target.

  • Accreditation schemes: Statements made by the companies about accreditation schemes and standards must not be misleading. For example, statements must make clear whether an accreditation applies to particular products or to the firm’s wider practices.

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Introduction: China’s president Xi meets US bosses to mend ties

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of business, the financial markets and the world economy.

China’s president Xi Jinping has met a group of US chief executives in Beijing amid efforts to mend ties frayed by geopolitical and trade tensions between the two countries.

The business bosses include private equity firm Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman and the semiconductor company Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon. China is keen to show it welcomes foreign businesses, restore confidence in the economy amid a shaky recovery and keep relations with the US stable.

State broadcaster CCTV named a number of executives present at the meeting and said Xi took a group photo with them before the event.

Other attendees include Raj Subramaniam, chief executive of the transport firm FedEx; Evan Greenberg, CEO of the insurer Chubb; Stephen Orlins, president of the National Committee on US-China Relations; Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council; and former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, now chairman of Bloomberg, according to CCTV.

Japan’s finance minister has issued its strongest warning to date on the weaker yen, as the currency sank to a 34-year low against the dollar, saying authorities could take “decisive steps” – language previously used before intervention.

Shunichi Suzuki previously used the phrase “decisive steps’ in the autumn of 2022 when Japan last intervened in the market to stem the slide in its currency.

The yen traded at 151.97 per dollar, down 0.2% and weaker than the 151.94 level when Japanese authorities stepped in during October 2022 to buy the currency.

The Bank of Japan governor, Kazuo Ueda, said it was important to support the economy with easy policy for the time being, a week after the central bank moved away from negative interest rates, which it had for eight years.

He told parliament:

Japan’s medium to long-term inflation expectations, and trend inflation, are still in the process of heading towards 2%.

He said the likelihood of achieving the BOJ’s 2% inflation target was high as growth in average real wages is likely to turn positive soon.

The Agenda

  • 8.30am GMT: Sweden’s Riksbank interest rate decision

  • 10.30am GMT: Bank of England financial policy committee releases its March summary and report on risks to financial stability

  • 11am GMT: US MBA Mortgage applications for week of 22 March

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