The Commerce Commission has warned fruit importer Dole it may be in breach of the Fair Trading Act on three separate counts relating to the company’s Ethical Choice marketing scheme.
However, only a court can decide if there has actually been a breach of the Fair Trading Act, with convicted companies liable for fines of up to $200,000.
The commission said it had received complaints alleging the company's promotional materials were misleading, implying that Dole was more ethical than competitors when it had not demonstrated this, or implying independent certification by a third party, when Dole does not have any such certification.
The Commerce Commission warned against the misleading use of standards, including obsolete ones.
Green marketing advisor Kath Dewar said she expected Dole to ditch the Ethical Choice initiative as a result.
“With social media these days global brands like Dole take a real hit when they’re caught greenwashing. People hate having their trust in brands betrayed. It’s just commercially not worth the risk of them continuing," she said.
Dewar said shoppers were busy and needed clear signals from companies they could trust.
“Greenwash tactics like ‘Ethical Choice’ are designed to manipulate people into thinking a product is more desirable than it is. It’s really a case of buyer beware with these kind of claims. That’s why independently evaluated schemes like Fair Trade, Environmental Choice and organic certifications are much more valuable as marketing tools than self-generated ‘badges’.”