On 12 May, NGO People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a greenwashing case with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Textile Exchange for false and misleading claims relating to the organisation’s animal welfare certifications. As a next step, the FTC will decide if it will investigate the case.
About the case
- On 12 May, NGO People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a case with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Textile Exchange for false and misleading claims relating to its Responsible Down Standard (RDS) and Responsible Animal Fibers (RAF) certifications in violation of the US Federal Trade Commission Act.
- Textile Exchange develops, manages and promotes industry standards on fibers and materials within the sector. It has over 800 members from brands, manufacturers, farmers and retailers.
- According to Textile Exchange, the RDS covers the treatment of ducks and geese and “ensures to the highest possible standard that down and feathers don’t come from animals that have been subjected to unnecessary harm”. RAF includes individual standards on responsible wool, mohair and alpaca all of which focus on animal welfare, land management and social welfare on the farm and within the chain of custody to final product.
- PETA claims that Textile Exchange’s certifications RDS and RAF:
- Mislead customers regarding the treatment of animals. Under the farm group and area certification schemes for both RDS and RAF, a site with a critical violation may not automatically have their certificate suspended. Sites with major and minor violations have up to 90 days to address the violation. This means that products can be certified for a period of time, even if the site has violated the standards.
- Only recommend (rather than require) basic minimal animal welfare standards, which consumers would find “cruel and irresponsible”. This means that no actions are taken if these recommendations are not met.
- Do not ensure that all farms are independently inspected, despite claims that RDS and RAF certifications include independent inspections. Under farm area and farm group certifications, farms can be inspected by local community members, customers, collectors or other farms, which are not trained auditors and have an interest in materials being certified.
- Allow farms to waive an audit under certain conditions and therefore some farms can go years without independent auditing. When audits do occur, they are generally announced.
- Only require certification bodies to conduct semi-announced or unannounced audits on 10% of high-risk farms. High-risk farms are defined as farms that have received a critical non-conformity in the past year or where mulesing is a common practice in the region.
- Do not require that parent farms i.e., farms supplying other producers with eggs or hatchlings are certified under its RDS certification. Parent farms are known to be high-risk for live plucking.
- Allow products to be marketed as transparent and traceable to the source, when Textile Exchange clarifies that its standards “are not designed to provide full supply chain transparency.”
About the US Federal Trade Commission
- The case was filed before the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the US government agency that protects competition and promotes consumer protection. The FTC will now decide if it will investigate the case.
- The FTC can issue cease-and-desist letters to prevent unfair or deceptive claims. In cases of severe or persistent breaches, the FTC can impose civil penalties. For example, on 5 May 2022, the Department of Justice and the FTC ruled that companies Kohl and Walmart had violated the FTC Act and the Textile Act and engaged in greenwashing by making deceptive eco-friendly claims and awarded civil penalties of $2.5 million (Kohl) and $3 million (Walmart).
- The FTC publishes the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Green Guides), which sets out rules on making environmental marketing claims. These are often referred to in greenwashing class action lawsuits.
- We are seeing significantly increased scrutiny on certification bodies and standards organisations. In December 2022, we included an alert on a legal case against LBMA for severe human rights abuses at a mine covered by certification. In April we published an alert on criticisms against South Pole over exaggerated climate claims.
- There is a clear direction of travel against greenwashing. Companies need to ensure that their own environmental and human rights claims can be substantiated, including with precise quantitative evidence which is scientifically rigorous for environmental claims. When companies use certifications they should ensure that they understand the full technical scope of those certifications, so that any references to those certifications are accurate and can be fully justified.