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Towards smart transparency


Greenwashing, false information, toxicological dramaturgy or even disinformation have become the common fate of some product communication, whether it comes from third-party players or unscrupulous companies. From Yuka to cruelty-free labels or the myth of manufactured natural products, clearly some people take consumers for idiots. It’s a situation that engulfs the average consumer in a storm of claims that create confusion, phobias and incredulity. Three ‘toxic’ ingredients for those wishing to place consumer goods on the market in a healthy competitive context and provide consumers with the facts they need to make fully informed choices, free of any grey area.

Keeping its house in order!

Whether they concern effectiveness, environmental characteristics, sustainability or value to society, product claims must be honest, true (proved by adequate tests) and unambiguous, not misleading. So it is crucial for industry to keep its house in order so as to introduce good practices in the sector. There is nothing more harmful to a sector than its lame ducks! To do this, besides complying stringently with the applicable regulations, it is essential to draw up a code of ethics for the sector. The self-regulation of a sector as regards commercial communication is the first marker pointing to its societal responsibility and its morality. The cosmetics sector in Belgium has had a code of ethics for advertising and commercial communication since 1978 and the detergent sector is set to follow suit in 2022. These codes lay down voluntary rules which the sectors comply with. They are crucial. Admittedly, the existence of a code will never prevent wrongdoers from trying their luck, but it has pedagogic and educational virtues that help eliminate bad practices.

Education is key

The knowledge necessary to exercise free will is required to combat false claims and greenwashing. Companies, authorities and the media are on the front line to help consumers interpret the information they receive. Training for journalists is becoming ever more important. Consumer goods are increasingly technological and the accompanying regulations are very complex. Deciphering product issues, analysing them and reporting them objectively is no easy task. This is why, via the DETIC Institute, DETIC organises courses for journalists in collaboration with the Belgian authorities and the academic world. Helping journalists to better understand the subjects they cover above all means working to inform consumers better and improve their capacity to analyse.

Putting an end to the mindless black boxes

‘Green’, ‘orange’, ‘red’ products! Oversimplified communication provided by certain mobile apps which draw up an entirely incorrect toxicological comparison on the basis of a list of ingredients is a real bane that insults consumers’ intelligence and harms the health of the market and the sectors that operate there. Not only do they distil false information that misleads consumers, but some of them influence the market and their simplistic approach fosters a decline in product quality. Consumers deserve far better than advice from sorcerers’ apprentices who play on the fears of society. There is an urgent need for the authorities at national and European level to take things in hand and return decision-making power and choice to consumers in full. The European Green Deal, with its ‘digitisation of information’ and ‘transparency’ components, definitely offers great opportunities to look into the issues of commercial communication, objective consumer information and the way in which the accuracy of information affects consumption patterns. The Covid-19 crisis has clearly highlighted the difficulty of overcoming rumour mongers and the power of those who do not understand, have no wish to understand or modify information to suit their own ends.

Returning decision-making power to consumers

An individual who decides for himself is an informed consumer. The challenge when it comes to providing information for consumers, in addition to the communication required by law and commercial communication, is to hide nothing from them and to give them access, in total transparency, to information that is comprehensive, scientific yet understandable, and structured so as to allow free choice in full knowledge of the facts. This is one of the challenges that the cosmetics sector is endeavouring to take up by launching the ‘cosmile’ app. There are no doubtful comparisons here, but relevant, accessible information resulting from a process of co-creation involving the stakeholders. No bias, either. It’s up to consumers to choose, given their cultural, social and economic situation, their tastes and their wishes. The app will contain factual information about product ingredients as well as environmental and sustainability information. Admittedly, here again the existence of a tool like this will not wipe out the nuisance of its ‘head-shrinking’ competitors, but hopefully it will help create wholesome transparency and ultimately lead to the disappearance of those who profit from digital disinformation.