Buyer beware

3rd of March 2023 Article by Lorcan Mekitarian
Buyer beware

With challenging economic circumstances continuing, buyers of cleaning and hygiene products need to beware of unscrupulous providers, explains Lorcan Mekitarian, chair of the Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association (CHSA) in the UK.

Companies offering seductive low-cost solutions are probably cutting important corners. Since the pandemic, there have also been plenty of extraordinary claims about the power of cleaning products, but without robust evidence to back them up, these claims are meaningless. His advice to buyers is to specify the CHSA Accreditation Scheme mark.

The geo-political and economic circumstances in 2023 are tough. The war in Ukraine continues, with all the associated pressures on energy prices and inflation. It's also testing the strength and stability of the NATO alliance. China stopping its ‘no covid' policy is putting pressure on raw materials. The Chinese economy itself is struggling, which is bound to impact companies in the cleaning and hygiene sector. UK businesses are also still coming to terms with the impact of Brexit. It has brought an additional administrative burden, as well as restricted access to workers.

History tells us that the unscrupulous step forward is to take advantage of circumstances like these. They cut corners. They compromise on product quality and quantity to offer seductively low prices. The reality, however, is if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

There is also a legacy of the pandemic that buyers need to navigate. Demand for cleaning chemicals and hand sanitiser was exceptional. It presented a perfect opportunity for many to make claims they could not substantiate. These included cleaning once with a hard surface sanitiser, keeping the surface sterile for days. New methods of application, including fogging and misting, were described as the panacea but they are more about the drama of cleaning and hygiene. The evidence to support many of these claims is weak or non-existent. Worryingly, these extraordinary marketing claims continue today.

Busy buyers of cleaning and hygiene products do not have the time or resources to check every product they purchase. It is time consuming to check the performance of the product - that what is inside the box matches the description on the label - or that they have good evidence to back up the marketing claims for their products. If they specify CHSA Accreditation, they do not have to.

We set up our first accreditation scheme in 1997 to tackle this type of problem. Rogue traders were offering soft tissue products that were narrower or shorter on length than specified on the label. The Accreditation Scheme for Manufacturers of Soft Tissue required manufacturers to state length and width on the label and to be certain the product inside matched the description: 'what's on the box is what's in the box'.

Standards you can trust

Today we have six accreditation schemes. They are for manufacturers of paper-based products, plastic-based products, cotton-based products, and cleaning chemicals, for general manufacturers and for distributors of cleaning and hygiene products.

The integrity of the schemes matters. It is maintained by the Independent Inspector. In 2022 he conducted more than 139 audits. In the process he inspected over 1,500 labels, tested over 507 product lines and physically tested 4,170 individual products. Compliance continued to be high, each scheme achieving over 90 per cent.

Every CHSA member has also signed the CHSA's rigorous Code of Practice, which incorporates the Competition and Markets Authority's Green Claims Code. It requires them to "maintain a high standard in the conduct of its business".

The combination of our code of practice and accreditation scheme membership means every member:

• Trades ethically and sustainably
• Provides quality, fit for purpose products
• Makes sure what's on the box is what's in the box.

Joining the CHSA is not easy. As well as auditing each applicant's products and quality assurance processes, we conduct due diligence on marketing and product claims. They must be able to substantiate them with hard evidence, for example EN test results. They are welcomed into the association only if they successfully complete due diligence and pass the audit.

We value the reputational integrity of the schemes and will always act to protect it. In autumn 2022 we issued a ‘cease and desist' order to a Turkish manufacturer claiming CHSA Accredited Status. Taking action in this way when necessary is how we make sure buyers and users of cleaning and hygiene products can trust our mark.

Committed to the integrity of the schemes, the CHSA's governing council will expel any scheme member who, despite being offered the guidance required to correct issues, consistently fails to conform to the relevant scheme standard.

Lorcan Mekitarian, chair of the CHSA, will be speaking on ‘Buyer beware: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is' in The Cleaning Show Conference Theatre on March 14. For more information about this year's event or to register visit:


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