Macy's, Amazon and Sears Busted for Pushing Phony Bamboo Fabrics

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Bamboo TextilesMacy's, Amazon and Sears have all agreed to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines after the Federal Trade Commission busted them for passing off Rayon fabrics as genuine bamboo.

The story of the great bamboo swindle traces back to January 2010, when the FTC sent letters to dozens of companies warning them that they could be breaking the law by mislabeling their Rayon textiles as bamboo. As the FTC explained in the letter, Rayon is created by treating plant or tree cellulose with chemicals, a process that creates air pollution. Even if bamboo is used in the process, the resulting textile is Rayon, and can't be called bamboo. The FTC even distributed a helpful business alert entitled "How to Avoid Bamboozling Your Customers." (Get it? Bamboo-zling?)

Unfortunately, the companies now being fined apparently chose to ignore those letters. Amazon (AMZN), which incorrectly advertised a crib sheet as "100% organic bamboo," was fined $455,000. Sears (SHLD) was dinged to the tune of $475,000 for similar misrepresentations by both Sears and subsidiary Kmart. Macy's (M) was fined $250,000, and a fourth retailer, Leon Max, was fined $80,000. The size of the fines was dependent on how many mislabeled products were sold by each retailer, as well as how long it continued to sell the products after getting the letter.

"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, in a statement.

The order levying the fines also prohibits the companies from further misrepresentations about the bamboo content of their textile products. Of course, it's hard for any retailer to be absolutely certain of the contents and manufacturing process of every item on its shelves. If a shipment of blankets arrives from a supplier with a tag identifying it as bamboo, you can't really expect Macy's to test them to ensure they're the genuine article. As such, the order says that a retailer must only obtain a "good faith" guarantee that it was properly labeled. If the products come from a foreign supplier, the retailer will only be liable if they had some way of knowing that the product was mislabeled.

So while the fines mean that retailers will be more careful about their labeling going forward, it doesn't guarantee that American consumers won't be duped by phony bamboo in the future. And the next time you see a blanket or garment made of fabric labeled as "organic bamboo" or touting its environmental benefits, understand that you might be getting bamboozled.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.


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24 Comments

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Mo

These companies were not ‘busted for selling phony bamboo’. There were fined for not using the generic fiber term for the products they were selling.

The products in question are made from a fiber that is made from bamboo. I repeat, the products are made from a fiber that is made from BAMBOO.

According to the FTC rules on labeling, these products have to be labeled as, rayon, or viscose. Since the source material is bamboo, they can be labeled as ‘rayon from bamboo’ or ‘viscose from bamboo’. Any labeling that does not specifically include the generic fiber term, rayon, or viscose, would run afoul of the law.

Selling a crib sheet that is advertised as being made from ‘100% organic bamboo’ is not okay. Selling a crib sheet that is advertised as being made from ‘viscose from 100% organically grown bamboo’ is okay.

This is not a case of a retailer trying to pass some unrelated fiber off as bamboo. It is simply as case of these retailers not ensuring that the products they were selling had the correct generic fiber term on the label.

I know that writing a story saying that people are getting bamboozled or that some major retailers are trying to sell something phony makes a more exciting story that just saying they didn’t use the correct generic fiber term on the label, but unfortunately, it is not based in truth.

January 07 2013 at 12:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
qpamscovemike

I work in Plastics Research.As such, I see many attempts to include natural and biological sources for plastics.This may benifit the environment eventually, both by diversifying the sources of feedstocks and by enhancing the biodegradability of discarded plastic. I consider both of these as worthy goals. Yet here we go again, with the same old message:"Go ahead and use fossil fuels all you want but do not dare to rock the boat or you will frace my wrath".Truth in labeling is indeed important, but so is truth in government.Thanks for reading this.

January 07 2013 at 6:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cindy

Hemp is the most environmentally friendly plant to grow and has so many uses. It is very strong and durable too. The government must legalize the growing of hemp in this country.

January 07 2013 at 3:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jrexmarda

Bamboo is ok for wood products and decorative stuff, but to be honest, it doesn't sound like something I would want to wear. Sounds like a line of clothing from Gilligan's Island.

January 06 2013 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bdgrizcp

My experience with rayon is it's like wearing a plastic bag. Why would anyone want to sleep in one? I'll stick with cotton.

January 06 2013 at 6:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
You're the best!

What do they do with all that money the government fines these companies? I would really like to know.

January 06 2013 at 2:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to You're the best!'s comment
wapitibowhunters

Welfare

January 07 2013 at 9:26 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wapitibowhunters's comment
Allen

Get it right, Corporate Welfare! LOL

January 07 2013 at 12:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
coheatguy

hmmm and they all say walmart is the king of fraud...

January 06 2013 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
thosholzel

What about Chobani yogurt listing "evaporated cane juice" as its second ingredient. That's a pretty fancy word for "white sugar."

January 06 2013 at 8:29 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
norman

What about leatherette? The Japanese word for plastic!

January 06 2013 at 3:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
That Bamboozlin' FTC

The companies are not misleading the consumer - I would say the FTC is misleading the consumers making it sound like it's apples and oranges. Bamboo fabric on the market is rayon fabric and it's still rayon made from bamboo (not from coconuts as they might as well have you believe). Betcha the FTC was bribed BIG time by the the cotton industry. You can tell by the bias from the "helpful business alert" - does that look like an official document from the govt or a document written by someone pulled by puppet strings? Read for yourself, and decide. It's so obvious. Money talks, period.

January 06 2013 at 12:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply