Taking advantage of ‘Made in the USA’

Created date

May 4th, 2020
Senior Scams Prevention Act has been introduced in the Senate. If passed, the bill would create a federal advisory council to develop educational materials for retailers, financial institutions, and wire transfer companies.

“Made in the USA” carries a lot of weight with American consumers. Some people are even willing to pay a little more for American-made products because they believe in the integrity of those words. 

That’s why it is so disappointing when a retailer, especially a well-regarded one, misrepresents products by saying they are “Made in the USA” when they aren’t.

It appears that Williams-Sonoma, the upscale home and kitchenware retailer, was doing just that. And it seems they did it not once but twice. Williams-Sonoma also operates Pottery Barn, Rejuvenations, and West Elm, among others.

In early 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) learned that ads for Pottery Barn Teen (another Williams-Sonoma brand) touted organic mattress pads that were “Crafted in America from local and imported materials.” However, closer examination revealed that those mattress pads were actually made in China. 

Williams-Sonoma apologized and agreed to work with the FTC on its country-of-origin verification process. The case was closed on June 13, 2018.

Still misleading consumers

Since then, the company was found promoting more products it claimed were “Made it the USA” or “Made in America.” In advertising for its Goldtouch Bakeware products, its Rejuvenation-branded products, and both Pottery Barn Teen and Pottery Barn Kids branded upholstered furniture products, the company allegedly deceived consumers with its broad claims that all items in these product lines were made in the United States. 

In reality, many of those products were either wholly imported or contained significant imported materials or components. 

“Many of us want to buy products that are made in the USA, and we trust companies like Williams-Sonoma to tell us the truth,” says Andrew Smith, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When a company falls short, we will hold it accountable.”

Before a retailer can claim that a product is made in the USA, that product must meet the “FTC’s Made in USA standard” meaning that “all or virtually all” of the product has been made in America. 

Williams-Sonoma has agreed to pay $1 million to the FTC as part of the proposed settlement, and moving forward, it will have to back up any claims about products being made in the USA with proof of the product’s country of origin. 

While this sort of scam doesn’t necessarily steal money directly from consumers’ pockets, it does impact consumer trust in the “Made in the USA” label.   

If you have been the victim of a scam, file an online consumer complaint with the FTC by visiting ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).