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Retailer To Stop Misleading Made in USA Claims
MADISON, CONN. April 1, 2020 Acting on a complaint filed by ad watchdog truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a settlement with Williams-Sonoma Inc. for violating the FTC’s Made in the USA standard. In addition to paying $1 million to the Commission, the retail giant will not make false, misleading, and unsubstantiated claims that products under its Williams-Sonoma, Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, Pottery Barn Teen, West Elm, Rejuvenation, Outward, and Mark & Graham brands are all or virtually all made in the United States
The FTC’s action comes less than a year after TINA.org filed the complaint against Williams-Sonoma, pointing out hundreds of products including furniture, lighting fixtures, kitchenware, rugs, jewelry and bedding products deceptively marketed as American-made on the company’s numerous e-commerce websites and on social media.
“We are pleased that the FTC saw fit to hold Williams-Sonoma accountable for its most recent deceptive Made in the USA marketing campaigns,” said TINA.org’s executive director Bonnie Patten. “However, given that it had annual revenue approaching $6 billion in 2019, it is unlikely that the $1 million fine will have any sort of deterrent effect on the company. Consumers who want to buy Made in the USA products must remain ever vigilant to ensure that they are not misled by such deceptive marketing claims.”
At the time of TINA.org’s complaint in May 2019, Williams-Sonoma was not ignorant of the FTC’s “all or virtually all” standard for unqualified made in USA claims like “Made in the USA” or “Made in America.” In fact, the company had been the subject of a 2018 FTC inquiry for made in USA marketing violations, which was dropped after assuring the agency that it had a process in place to “prevent consumer deception with respect to country-of-origin claims for products on its websites.”
But TINA.org’s investigation in 2019 found that Williams-Sonoma was merely paying lip service to the agency, as evidenced by the sheer number of deceptive claims found by the ad watchdog across seven of the company’s brands. This type of recidivism is precisely why TINA.org petitioned the FTC last year to enact a regulation that would give the agency the option to seek a monetary penalty against first-time offenders who blatantly ignore the law and take advantage of the majority of Americans who report that they prefer US-made products over ones made abroad and are even willing to pay more for them.
TINA.org has investigated and taken action on deceptive Made in USA claims made by a number of companies including Walmart, Gillette, and Mercedes-Benz. 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 USA marketing, see: www.truthinadvertising.org/williams-sonoma-to-pay-1-million-to-settle-deceptive-ad-lawsuit-sparked-by-tina-org/
Find out more about TINA.org’s work uncovering deceptive Made in USA claims here: www.truthinadvertising.org/usa/
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Rina Raphael, Los Angeles Times
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