MADISON, CONN. May 22, 2019 – Williams-Sonoma brands including Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, PBteen, Pottery Barn Kids, Rejuvenation and West Elm are violating the FTC’s Made in USA standard according to a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org).
The ad watchdog has amassed more than 800 examples in which the retail giant claims in its marketing materials that its products — which include everything from furniture, lighting fixtures and kitchenware, to rugs, jewelry and bedding products — are made in the USA, despite the fact that many of its products are imported or made with imported materials, according to origin information inconspicuously provided on the company’s various websites.
The FTC’s Made in USA standard calls for products marketed with an unqualified made in the USA claim to be “all or virtually all” made here. This means that most everything associated with the manufacturing of the product, from all significant parts and processing to the location of final assembly, must be of U.S.-origin. Any foreign content must be negligible or the product cannot be marketed as “made” or “built” in the USA. Given that many Americans prefer U.S.-made products over ones made abroad and that some are even willing to pay more for them, it’s no surprise that the retailer would try to cash in on consumer demand.
Williams-Sonoma is no stranger to charges of deceptive U.S.-origin claims. In June 2018, the FTC dropped its inquiry into the retailer’s made in the USA claims after Williams-Sonoma corrected what it claimed was an “isolated error,” which it attributed to a mix-up with SKU numbers. At the time, Williams-Sonoma assured the FTC that it has a process in place to “prevent consumer deception with respect to country-of-origin claims for products on its websites.”
The FTC has recently come under fire for the way it polices false made in the USA marketing. The agency typically shies away from pursuing the kind of enforcement action that could lead to fines, admissions of wrongdoing and/or refunds for consumers. But the FTC is facing increasing pressure to reverse this trend, not only from senators who have called on the agency to prioritize financial penalties against companies that violate the law, but also from within its own ranks, with two of its commissioners dissenting on recent made in the USA enforcement decisions that did not require admissions of liability or exact a financial cost.
“Consumers and companies that honestly market their products as Made in America will continue to be harmed until the FTC takes decisive action against companies like Williams-Sonoma that flout the law,” said TINA.org Executive Director Bonnie Patten.
TINA.org has investigated and taken action on deceptive made in the USA claims made by a number of companies including Walmart, Gillette and Mercedes. In addition, the consumer watchdog has tracked more than 30 class-action lawsuits alleging deceptive made in the USA claims.
To read more about TINA.org’s investigation of Williams-Sonoma’s deceptive made in the USA marketing, see: https://truthinadvertising.org/5-things-to-know-about-tinas-made-in-usa-complaint-against-williams-sonoma/