If it looks like leather, is it really leather? Under revised guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission today, the answer is "yes," unless the manufacturer specifically discloses that the product is made of some other material. The new FTC guidelines generally warn manufacturers and retailers against misrepresenting the composition of a variety of products often made from leather -- including footwear, luggage, handbags and belts -- and are intended to prevent misuse of terms such as waterproof, scratchproof and the like. The guides represent the FTC's continuing effort to update and streamline regulation, in that they combine relevant portions of three older FTC guides for various leather products and provisions from a now-rescinded FTC rule governing the marketing of leather belts. The FTC also worked to harmonize the new guides with a European Union Directive concerning footwear. The new "Guides for Select Leather and Imitation Leather Products" are effective Dec. 2.
Today's announcement follows an extended period during which the FTC sought comments from industry and the public on the first draft of the guidelines, which were published in the Federal Register last September. In separate notices published prior to that date, the FTC had sought comments on its proposal to consolidate three sets of guidelines for the shoe, luggage and handbag industries, as well as its proposal to repeal the Leather Belt Rule. In a notice published in today's Federal Register, the Commission discusses the comments it received concerning the proposed combined guidelines, and explains the modified guidelines now adopted by the Commission.
Under the new guidelines, products that appear to be made of leather but which are not should include a disclosure stating either that the product is not made of leather or the actual type of material from which it is made. When leather is embossed or processed to simulate a different type of leather, the true type of leather should be disclosed. Further, the composition of backing material should be disclosed in certain situations. The guidelines caution against misrepresentations about the leather content in products containing ground, reconstituted, or bonded leather, and state that such products, when they appear to be made of leather, should be accompanied by a disclosure as to the percentage of leather or other fiber content. The guidelines also state that these disclosures should be included in any product advertising that might otherwise mislead consumers as to the composition of the product.
The terms waterproof, dustproof, warpproof, scuffproof, scratchproof, scuff resistant and scratch resistant also are defined in the guidelines so as to prevent misuse and misunderstandings.
The Commission vote to adopt the new guidelines was 5-0. Guidelines do not have the force of law but are intended to encourage voluntary compliance with the FTC Act.
Copies of the Guidelines for Select Leather and Imitation Leather Products are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. P958011)