There sure are a lot of seals out there. The British singer. The Navy special ops unit. The aquatic mammal. But the seals that matter to the FTC are certifications that convey representations consumers might not be able to evaluate for themselves. If your company makes Made in the USA claims, you’ll want to “Get Closer.” (And yes, that was a hit by 70s folk rockers, Seals and Crofts.)
Ohio-based Made in the USA Brand markets a U.S.-origin seal for businesses to use to boost the credibility of their “Made in USA” claims. According to one promotional brochure, “When printed on labels by accredited manufacturers, consumers are able to identify at a glance which products are made in the USA.” Why not just rely on a manufacturer’s own statement? “Consumers value transparency in the manufacturing process and have looked to trusted symbols and certification marks to help align their purchases with their beliefs.” The company’s website included one licensee’s explanation that the certification mark was important “because it stands for buying American products produced by American workers.”
Of course, consumers have no way to know if a company’s U.S.-origin claims are flag-wavingly factual or frankly false. According to the FTC, Made in the USA Brand conveyed to consumers that it independently evaluated licensees to make sure they were toeing the line. Furthermore, it touted its site as a place where consumers could find “products and goods they can trust” and claimed its mark conveyed the “Made in USA Seal of Approval.” Depending on annual sales, Made in the USA Brand charged between $250 and $2000 for a one-year license to use its certification mark.
At this point, you might be wondering if we skipped over the part where Made in the USA Brand conducted a careful evaluation to make sure products bearing its mark really are of U.S origin. But we skipped that step because according to a law enforcement action just announced by the FTC, Made in the USA Brand skipped it, too. The complaint alleges that all a company had to do display the seal was self-certify that it was in compliance with the guidance set forth in the FTC’s Enforcement Policy Statement for U.S. Origin Claims. What about objective evaluations or audits to confirm ongoing compliance? There weren’t any. And you won’t be hearing about companies that were denied the certification mark because according to the FTC, Made in the USA Brand handed over its seal to any business whose check cleared.
The complaint also challenged the truth of the company’s representation that the entities promoted on its site sold products that were all or virtually all U.S.-made. In addition, the FTC says that by distributing deceptive promotional materials for licensees to use in selling their products, Made in the USA Brand gave them the means and instrumentalities to violate the law.
Among other things, the proposed settlement bans Made in the USA Brand from claiming that a company authorized to display its mark is in compliance with its accreditation standard unless Made in the USA Brand independently and objectively evaluates it. The other option: Made in the USA Brand can clearly and prominently disclose on its logo and in all of its promotional materials that the seal is based on a company’s own self-certification that it’s in compliance with the standard. The deadline for filing comments about the proposed order is August 22, 2014.
Visit the Business Center’s Made in USA page to keep your claims red, white – and true.