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Amazon, Macy’s, Sears Settle with FTC over Bamboo Claims

Amazon, Leon Max, Macy’s and Sears – and Sears’ Kmart subsidiaries – have agreed to pay $1.26 million in penalties to settle Federal Trade Commission charges the retailers misled customers by selling rayon fabrics labeled as made from bamboo fiber.

Sears will pay $475,000, Amazon $455,000, Macy’s $250,000 and Leon Max $80,000 for the false labeling. 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.

The retailers sold products such as “pure fiber 100 percent bamboo” sheets and an “100 percent organic bamboo” infant crib sheet, items the FTC alleged in complaints did not contain unaltered bamboo fiber.

The so-called bamboo textiles were often promoted as environmentally friendly, the FTC said. The process for manufacturing rayon, even when it is made from bamboo, is far from a “green” one, the FTC said. The textile is processed with a harsh chemical that releases hazardous air pollutants, according to the commission.

The companies agreed to pay the fines and accept compliance monitoring and reporting. Each company will be required to ensure labels and ads for bamboo textiles sold in their stores or online accurately describe the fiber content, the FTC said.

The orders, which must still be approved by a federal judge, cover any products marketed or sold as made of bamboo or bamboo fiber as well as products marketed as anti-microbial, anti-bacterial or anti-fungal, the FTC said.

In 2009, the FTC brought its first set of cases against companies allegedly selling rayon textiles labeled as bamboo.  Three of the companies – Sami Designs LLC, also doing business as Jonäno; CSE Inc., also doing business as Mad Mod; and Pure Bamboo LLC – immediately settled the FTC’s complaints and agreed to stop making the false claims and to abide by the commission’s Textile Fiber Products Identification Act (Textile Act) and Rules.

The FTC sent warning letters in 2010 to 78 companies, including Amazon, Leon Max, Macy’s and Sears, regarding their continued mislabeling of rayon textiles as bamboo. The companies were warned at the time they could face civil penalties.

The FTC has issued a publication, “How to Avoid Bamboozling Your Buyers,” which provides information on how to correctly label and advertise rayon textiles made from bamboo.

Last autumn the agency issued its long-awaited revisions to the “Green Guides,” designed to help marketers ensure the claims they make about the environmental qualities of their products are truthful and non-deceptive.

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