Marketing and Comms
FTC Fines 4 Major Retailers Collective $1.3M for Falsely Labeling Rayon Textiles as 'Bamboo'

The Federal Trade Commission announced complaints and proposed court orders barring four national retailers from mislabeling and advertising rayon textiles as made of “bamboo,” and requiring them to pay civil penalties totaling $1.3 million.

Under the court orders settling the FTC’s charges, Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. will pay $500,000; Nordstrom, Inc. will pay $360,000; JCPenney Company, Inc. will pay $290,000; and Backcountry.com LLC will pay $150,000 for allegedly violating the FTC Act and the agency’s Textile Rules.

“It’s misleading to call bamboo that has been chemically processed into rayon simply ‘bamboo,’” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It’s important for [consumers] to know that textiles marketed as environmentally friendly alternatives may not be as ‘green’ as they were led to believe.”

The complaints allege the four companies broke the law by continuing to misrepresent or mislabel rayon products as “bamboo” despite receiving warning letters from the FTC in 2010 and a synopsis of previous litigated cases against marketers for deceptively labeling rayon products as bamboo. The Commission charged the companies with violating the Textile Act and the Textile Rules and with violating Section 5(m)(1)(B) of the FTC Act by falsely and deceptively selling the mislabeled products, despite knowing that doing so was illegal and could subject them to civil penalties.

Specifically, Bed Bath & Beyond’s mislabeled items, also sold through its subsidiary buybuy BABY, included dozens of “bamboo” textiles, including “Aden + Anais Bamboo 3-Pack Muslin Swaddles” and “Bamboo Blend Napkins.”

Nordstrom sold similar products online and in its stores, including a “Gypsy 05 Bamboo Racerback Hi-Lo Dress” and “Degree Six Clothing The Bamboo Long Sleeve Tee.”

JCPenney and Backcountry.com both sold numerous “bamboo” products, including men’s socks; both retailers also falsely claimed “bamboo” gave the products antimicrobial properties.

The proposed orders settling the FTC’s charges are identical, aside from the civil penalty amounts. They prohibit the companies from violating the FTC’s Textile Act and Rules by failing to properly identify the fiber content when labeling and advertising any textiles containing manufactured fibers.

Business and Consumer Information

The FTC says its publication, “How to Avoid Bamboozling Your Customers,” provides useful information on how to correctly label and advertise textiles that are rayon made from bamboo and cautions sellers that it is highly unlikely they are selling actual bamboo fiber products. The FTC also has an educational publication for consumers called “Bamboo Fabrics.”

Since the release of its updated Green Guides in 2012, the FTC has kept an eagle eye to ensure the validity of various environmental claims on consumer products, cracking on what it considered dubious uses of terms such as “biodegradable” (in products such as diapers and plastics) and “VOC-free” (mattresses and paints).

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