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Four retailers fined by FTC in bamboo mislabeling cases

Four national retailers, Amazon.com, Leon Max, Macy's and Sears Roebuck and Co., have agreed to pay penalties totaling $1.26 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they violated the Textile Products Identification Act (Textile Act) and the FTC's Textile Rules by labeling and advertising products sold in stores and online as made of bamboo, while they actually were made of rayon.

While so-called bamboo textiles often are promoted as environmentally friendly, the process for manufacturing rayon - even when it is made from bamboo - is far from a "green" one, the Trade Commission said.

Sears will pay $475,000; Amazon $455,000; Macy's $250,000; and Leon Max $80,000. The penalties reflect how long the companies continued to sell mislabeled textiles after receiving an FTC warning letter in early 2010, as well as the amount of products sold. Each company also will be required to ensure that the labels and ads for bamboo textiles they sell accurately indicate their fiber content.

"When attempting to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, companies need to ensure they don't cross the line into misleading labeling and advertising," said Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "If a textile is made of rayon, sellers need to say that, even if bamboo was used somewhere along the line in the production process."

In 2009, the FTC brought its first set of cases against companies allegedly selling rayon textiles labeled as bamboo. The agency settled charges against four companies and distributed a business alert advising manufacturers and sellers that if a textile is not made directly with bamboo fiber, it may not be labeled or advertised as bamboo.

In January 2010, the FTC sent warning letters to 78 companies, including Amazon, Leon Max, Macy's and Sears, concerning their continuing mislabeling of rayon textiles as bamboo. The FTC alleges that the four companies continued improperly to label their rayon textiles as bamboo, even after being told in the warning letters that they could face civil penalties if they did not properly label and advertise their textile products.

According to the FTC's complaints, each of the four companies violated the Textile Act and the FTC's Textile Rules by advertising and marketing products as being made of bamboo, when, in fact, they were actually made of rayon.

Some, but not all, of the products in question include juvenile products. The FTC complaint alleged that Amazon described a Summer Infant crib sheet as "100% Organic Bamboo." It also sold a product called the "Scene Weavers Pickles 100% Bamboo Knit Garden Stripe Baby Blanket," claiming it was comprised of "100% knit bamboo."

The FTC has a publication designed to help businesses selling clothing and textile products that are purportedly made from bamboo to comply with the Textile Act and Rules and in marketing their products in ways that are truthful and non-deceptive. "Avoid Bamboo-zling Your Buyers," provides information on how to correctly label and advertise textiles that are rayon made from bamboo.

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