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Williams-Sonoma Pays $1 Million to Settle “Made in USA” Claims

Home furnishings giant Williams-Sonoma – whose brands include Pottery Barn, Le Creuset, and West Elm – invokes an upscale, modern American lifestyle. Many of its products are marketed not only as “quality” but also “crafted in America.” Consumers who received mattress pads from the Pottery Barn Teen and Kids were therefore surprised to see labels indicating that the products were “Made in China.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wasn’t pleased.

In its complaint against Williams-Sonoma, the FTC alleged that items from its Rejuvenation, Goldtouch Bakeware and items from its Pottery Barn Teens and Pottery Barn Kids lines were advertised as wholly “Made in USA” but were actually made elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was not the first time the FTC received similar complaints. In 2018, the FTC received complaints that Williams-Sonoma’s online ads and promotional materials for Pottery Barn Teen organic mattress pads stated the pads were “Crafted in America from local and imported materials” when the law labels stated the pads were made in China. When the FTC approached Williams-Sonoma about the issue, the company apologized for what it called human error and promised to take immediate steps to rectify its country-of-origin verification process.

However, the following year, the FTC found that the company “continued to disseminate advertisements and promotional materials, including through its website and social media platforms, which deceptively claimed certain categories of Williams-Sonoma products were all or virtually all made in the United States.” Made in the USA claims went beyond mattress pads. The company also touted that its Rejuvenation furniture, Goldtouch Bakeware, and products from its Pottery Barn Teen and Kids lines were “Made in America” or “Made in the USA.” But according to the FTC, “numerous Goldtouch Bakeware products, Rejuvenation-branded products, and Pottery Barn Teen and Pottery Barn Kids-branded upholstered furniture products are wholly imported or contain significant imported materials or components.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Williams-Sonoma will pay a fine of $1 million and is barred from representing that its products are made in the USA unless:

  • The final assembly or processing of the product occurs in the United States, all significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the United States, and all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the United States; or
  • A clear and conspicuous qualification appears immediately adjacent to the representation that accurately conveys the extent to which the product contains foreign parts, ingredients, components, and/or processing;
  • For a claim a product is made in the U.S., that the product is last substantially transformed in the United States, the product’s principal assembly takes place in the United States, and United States assembly operations are substantial

Whether an investigation by the FTC involves a U.S.-origin claim or another matter, the lesson of this enforcement action is that companies must deliver on promises to the FTC to take corrective action, and ensure that substantiation and claims of “Made in USA” comply with the FTC’s country of origin rules.

© 2020 Keller and Heckman LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 97

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About this Author

Sheila Millar, Keller Heckman, advertising lawyer, privacy attorney
Partner

Sheila A. Millar counsels corporate and association clients on advertising, privacy, product safety, and other public policy and regulatory compliance issues.

Ms. Millar advises clients on an array of advertising and marketing issues.  She represents clients in legislative, rulemaking and self-regulatory actions, advises on claims, and assists in developing and evaluating substantiation for claims. She also has extensive experience in privacy, data security and cybersecurity matters.  She helps clients develop website and app privacy policies,...

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