Make Sure It’s Bamboo! Retailers Can Be Fined

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Many new and seasoned companies are bringing out “Bamboo” products and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made it clear that products may not be called “Bamboo this” or “Bamboo that” unless they are made of true bamboo fabric.

Experts say the FTC has also made it clear that it is against federal law to state a product is made from “Bamboo” when the fabric is actually Rayon, a semi-synthetic. The FTC has taken action against retailers for selling products called “Bamboo,” and has enforced huge fines. “It’s misleading to call bamboo that has been chemically processed into rayon simply ‘bamboo,’ ” says Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection “

Recently Nordstrom and Buy Buy Baby (Bed Bath and Beyond) were fined for selling items referred to as “Bamboo Swaddle” products. According to the FTC, “The truth is, most ‘bamboo’ textile products, if not all, really are rayon, which typically is made using environmentally toxic chemicals in a process that emits hazardous pollutants into the air. While different plants, including bamboo, can be used as a source material to create rayon, there’s no trace of the original plant in the finished rayon product.”

Further, the FTC cautions, “If you make, advertise, or sell bamboo-based textiles, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that unless a product is made directly with bamboo fiber — often called “mechanically processed bamboo” — it can’t be called bamboo. Indeed, to advertise or label a product as “bamboo,” you need competent and reliable evidence, such as scientific tests and analyses, to show that it’s made of actual bamboo fiber. Relying on other people’s claims isn’t substantiation. The same standard applies to other claims, such as a claim that rayon fibers retain natural antimicrobial properties from the bamboo plant.”

If you sell clothing, linens, or other textile products, the FTC says “you’re responsible for making truthful disclosures about the fiber content. If your product isn’t made directly of bamboo fiber — but is a manufactured fiber for which bamboo was the plant source — it should be labeled and advertised using the proper generic name for the fiber, such as rayon, or ‘rayon made from bamboo.’ “

Late in 2015, the FTC announced settlements with major retailers in cases dating back to 2009. Major retailers that have been fined include Amazon, Macy’s, Sears (and Kmart), Bed Bath & Beyond (buybuy Baby), Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, and Civil penalties in the cases – $500,000 from Bed Bath & Beyond, $360,000 from Nordstrom, $290,000 from J.C. Penney, and $150,000 from – are based on product sales and how long the violations went on.

Textile manufacturers and retailers can take five material messages from the FTC actions.

1. Don’t call it “bamboo” if the textile isn’t made directly of bamboo fiber. Exercise caution before advertising or labeling a textile product as bamboo. There is virtually no actual bamboo fiber out there, so be highly skeptical if suppliers tell you their textile products are “bamboo.” What’s more, be careful not to convey expressly or by implication an environmental claim you can’t support with sound science.

2. Look beyond the label. It’s important that your required fiber content disclosures are accurate, but your compliance obligations don’t end there. Some companies seem to think that if they modify their content disclosures to accurately read “rayon,” they’re free to use the word “bamboo” in product titles and descriptions. That’s a mistake. If it’s not made directly of bamboo fiber, don’t call it bamboo. Not anywhere, not anyway.

3. Consult the FTC Enforcement Policy Statement. We think the 2013 Policy Statement offers a commonsense approach to global supply chain issues.

4. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. The four companies that settled law enforcement actions today all received warning letters in 2010. Those letters used a procedure outlined in Section 5(m)(1)(B) of the FTC Act for putting businesses on notice that certain practices are unfair or deceptive – in this instance, failing to use proper fiber names in labeling and advertising textile products. Under that portion of the law, future violations committed “with actual knowledge” that a practice is unfair or deceptive can result in civil penalties. Bed Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, and may have initially taken the warning to heart, but it didn’t seem to stick. At some point, false claims crept back into their labels and ads. But this time around, violations resulted in civil penalties.

5. Scrutinize your stock for potentially misleading bamboo claims. The FTC is sending letters to other retailers, asking them to check their inventories to ensure proper labeling and advertising of rayon textile products.

For more information visit the FTC website.


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