FTC Issues Financial Penalties Against Accessories Companies for Misleading Made in USA Claims

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Sep 22 2023 |
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The owner of Chaucer Accessories, Bates Accessories, and Bates Retail Group was fined nearly $192,000 for “falsely claiming that certain company products were manufactured in the United States.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to take action against companies who have been found to have falsely claimed to manufacture their imported products in the United States.

The agency announced on Aug. 29 a final settlement with Thomas Bates and three of his companies — Chaucer Accessories, Bates Accessories, and Bates Retail Group — after FTC investigators with the Bureau of Consumer Protection found that the brands, which are based in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, made deceptive claims about where many of their products were made. According to the FTC, these companies “frequently advertised their products as being “Made in USA” or “Hand Crafted in USA” in their marketing and sales materials” but “sold certain products that were wholly imported or incorporated significant imported components.”

The FTC also charged “that belts labeled ‘Made in USA from Global Materials’ consisted of belt straps imported from Taiwan with buckles attached in the U.S.”

As part of the final settlement, Bates and his companies were ordered to pay a $191,481 fine and abide by proper country of origin labeling guidelines. The settlement also ordered the companies to contact consumers who purchased mislabeled products after Jan. 1, 2018 about the FTC’s action.

Leslie Fair, a senior attorney at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, had a little bit of fun when the preliminary settlement in the case was announced back in June, writing a poem that played off the Shakespearean ties to the Chaucer Accessories name:

When thou makest claims to thy consumers,
Base them in facte, not boast or rumours.
Nowhere is this truer sayeth
Than when thou claim “Made in USA-eth.”

“The takeaway message for other companies: U.S. origin claims are highly material to many consumers. Don’t run the risk of customers ‘going medieval’ if they learn that a company’s Made in USA claims – qualified or unqualified – are deceptive,” Fair continued.

Fair and the FTC may have gotten a bit cheeky in the press release, but the case is just the latest showcasing the agency’s continued seriousness when it comes to enforcing Made in USA labeling laws, and it is a welcome one. For decades, the agency routinely turned a blind eye to country of origin violations, even in especially egregious cases.

But that began to change in 2020, when the agency fined Williams Sonoma $1 million for falsely labeling imported goods as Made in USA. By 2021, it had strengthened its enforcement mechanisms, has continued issuing financial penalties against companies for deceptive country of origin claims ever since.

Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we continue to support the FTC’s work to enforce Made in USA labeling laws. It simply isn’t fair when companies take the easy road by importing their goods from overseas and slapping a Made in USA label on them.

American manufacturers and their workers face a lot of obstacles to make their products in the United States, including decades of bad U.S. policy that unfortunately favored imports over locally made goods. The upside is that the American public values Made in America products, which means having a Made in USA label is a strong selling point. Props to the FTC for taking action to ensure consumers can trust that label when they see it.