More people in Belgium falling for greenwashing

More people in Belgium falling for greenwashing
Credit: Greenpeace

During the pandemic, the number of people who were victims of scams increased dramatically. While this figure has now dropped slightly, it remains above 2019 levels with a growing number of claims linked to greenwashing.

From heatwaves and drought to deadly floods, the effects of climate change are increasingly being felt in Belgium, resulting in some people making more conscious decisions when consuming products.

This has led more companies to exploit greenwashing techniques, making false, misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability of their products, services, or business operations.

Secretary of State for Consumer Protection Eva De Bleeker warned that this is particularly striking in Belgium, as revealed in the annual report of the Economic Inspectorate published on Wednesday.

"In recent years, companies have increasingly used the environment in their advertising messages to win over consumers," she noted in a press statement. "Such environmental claims have since become a powerful marketing tool. But unfortunately, not all such claims are true."

De Bleeker has strengthened efforts to tackle this "shady practice" and has made greenwashing a new priority area for the Inspectorate, which will investigate complaints connected to such violations more intensively.

Guidelines have been published for companies that mean well, while stricter controls are being carried out against rogue players, both proactively and based on reports. In 2021, the first 29 checks were carried out, resulting in 16 warnings.

Slow return to pre-pandemic levels

Last year, as many as 47,917 consumers reported being deceived or scammed by companies in Belgium, marking a slight decrease compared to the record figures seen in 2020 (more than 55,000 reports). However, this remains higher than two years ago, when the inspectorate received around 42,000 such reports.

"This shows the impact of the pandemic is still not completely gone," De Bleeker noted. Most of these claims were with regard to travel and failure to repay package holidays.

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In light of these figures, De Bleeker stressed the importance of reporting such abuse of consumer rights. Every report received undergoes thorough analysis which can lead to an investigation. This may be followed by a warning or an official report, which finally could result in legal action.

"It is hugely important that any form of deception is reported. This allows the Economic Inspectorate to chase and fine fraudsters and together we avoid more victims," she concluded.

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