Most of our posts regarding “Made in USA” claims relate to FTC investigations and enforcement actions. Private plaintiffs, however, also closely watch those claims. For example, in 2018 plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against New Balance Athletics Inc. challenging qualified “Made in USA” claims. Although the plaintiffs acknowledged that New Balance qualified the claim
On November 27, the FTC Commissioners testified on a range of issues before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security. One excerpt that caught our attention was their comments on “Made in USA” advertising and the potential for increased scrutiny.
Here’s an excerpt of the Q&A between Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) and the FTC Commissioners (emphasis added):
CAPITO: Okay, last question I have on fraudulent marketing would be the… fraudulent Made in America label. How prevalent is this? And what are some of the means you’re going to try to curb this practice?
SIMONS: This is fairly prevalent. We get hundreds of these, hundreds of complaints a year, that people are improperly using the Made in the USA label. We are committed to investigating those, and usually a lot of times what happens is the firm, the company doesn’t even realize that it’s a violation. So we explain to them it’s a violation and they stop it.
Sometimes companies do it intentionally, sometimes we tell them and they don’t stop and those people we sue. And one of the things that we’re exploring now, as a general rule, we have only gotten injunctive relief in cases like this previously. Now we’re exploring whether we can find a good case that would be appropriate for monetary relief to serve as an additional deterrent.
CHOPRA: I just want to add here that I think there are manufacturers out there who hire American workers and who purposely do that because they want to put the flag on their product. And for those who lie, this cheapens the Made in the USA label so it’s not just hurting American consumers, it’s hurting every American manufacturer who is trying to do right. So I want us to be much more aggressive with this, actually. And if you and Senator Cortez-Masto want to team up, finding civil penalties for some of these bad actors, we can make sure we increase compliance levels. And I got to tell you — right now there’s a country of origin labeling issues in agriculture, country of origin issues in product marketing. We have to do more to put a stop to this because this is extremely unfair to honest companies.
Having now turned the page to the back half of 2018, we took a look at how the FTC’s “Made in USA” enforcement is stacking up to prior years. As we previously posted, the FTC made known its intent to prioritize “Made in USA” enforcement in remarks delivered at last fall’s NAD Conference. Year to date, the FTC has settled two cases (Bollman Hat Company and Nectar Brand LLC) and has issued 15 closing letters regarding “Made in USA” claims.
By comparison, there were two settlements and 22 closing letters in 2017. If the current pace continues, the number of closing letters may exceed prior years.
What can we learn from these cases?
- Qualified Claims Must Still Be Substantiated: Most closing letters involve unqualified “Made in USA” claims. However, qualified claims and those involving terms open to interpretation can still be the subject of scrutiny and must still be properly substantiated. Nectar Brands allegedly claimed in promotional materials that its mattresses were “Designed and Assembled in USA,” but the FTC’s complaint alleges that the mattresses were wholly imported from China, with no assembly taking place in the United States. “Crafted in America” was also among the claims that saw enforcement as was “Built in USA.”
- Watch For Disclosure Issues: In addition to labeling wholly imported products as “Made in USA,” the FTC alleged that Bollman Hat Company and its subsidiary licensed the “American Made Matters” seal to any company that claimed it had a United States-based manufacturing factory or one product with a U.S.-origin label, and met several membership requirements, including self-certifying that at least 50% of the cost of at least one of their products was incurred in the United States, with final assembly or transformation in the U.S., and payment of an annual licensing fee of $99. The settlement requires the respondents to engage an independent auditor regarding use of the seal or to clearly and conspicuously disclose that products and services may display the seal based on self-certification.
In a keynote address at the National Advertising Division conference earlier this month, Mary Engle, Associate Director in the Advertising Practices Division of the FTC, included “Made in USA” as among the agency’s current enforcement priorities. The FTC’s interest in U.S. origin claims is nothing new, but these claims have garnered considerable regulatory attention in…
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has scheduled a reading this week of the proposed S. 118 Reinforcing American-Made Products Act of 2017. The bill proposes to amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to require the Federal Trade Commission’s regulation of the labeling of products as “Made…
A recent decision the by the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) has important implications for importers, government contractors, and manufacturers that make “Assembled in America” and similar claims. In a ruling against Energizer Battery, Inc., the CIT determined that domestic assembly of foreign component parts does not fulfill the Buy America requirements found…
Earlier this week, the FTC announced settlement of one of the few “Made in USA” cases the agency has litigated in recent years. Earlier this year, we sent an update regarding the FTC’s lawsuit against Chemence, Inc., in which the FTC alleged that Chemence was deceiving consumers by claiming that their glues were “Made…
Massachusetts-based New Balance has long made “Made in the USA” a cornerstone claim for their athletic wear. The graphic below, from the company’s website, explains exactly what New Balance means by “Made in the USA” – but recently, the company has taken further steps to make clear the importance of this claim to their brand.…