Rayon, more commonly known in New Zealand as viscose, is a fabric manufactured from cellulose. It’s frequently extracted from wood pulp, but many plant materials are suitable – including bamboo. Rayon was the first man-made fibre ever produced, and was first commercially produced in 1905.
J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Backcountry.com and the US Bed Bath & Beyond have reached settlements with the US Federal Trade Commission over their promotion of viscose textiles as being made with bamboo. The FTC says this violates its textile rules, which indicate that customers have the right to know what the products they buy are made from.
It says there’s also an element of greenwashing as products described as “bamboo” are often promoted as being environmentally friendly. However, manufacturing viscose – even when it’s made from bamboo – often involves the use of harsh chemicals such as caustic soda or sodium hydroxide.
Similar settlements were reached in 2013, when the FTC targeted Amazon.com, Inc.; Leon Max, Inc.; Macy’s, Inc.; and Sears, Roebuck and Co. and its Kmart subsidiaries, Kmart Corporation and Kmart.com over the same set of infringements.
The FTC first began bringing cases against companies selling viscose textiles labelled as bamboo in 2009. It then published a business alert advising companies that if a textile isn’t made directly of bamboo fibre, they should not label it as bamboo: “In fact, there is virtually no bamboo fiber in the marketplace, so the chances are small that a product really is made directly of bamboo fiber.”
Consumer NZ says Kiwi regulations don’t specify how viscose fabric derived from bamboo should be labelled: “But it’s an offence under the Fair Trading Act for traders to mislead customers about the fibre content of textiles or the environmental attributes of products. Companies can be fined up to $600,000 for breaching the Act.”
A quick internet search has revealed a handful of New Zealand retailers promoting items as being made from bamboo. These include We’ar Yoga Clothing; Postie +, and a childrenswear label called Bam + Boo which claims its products alleviate eczema.
Untouched World also lists bamboo products on its website, but says its bamboo fabric has been mechanically processed and is made from 100 percent bamboo fibre.
The NRF has released the below list of precautions for manufacturers and retailers:
1. Don’t call it “bamboo” if the textile isn’t made directly of bamboo fibre. Exercise caution before advertising or labeling a textile product as bamboo. There is virtually no actual bamboo fibre out there, so be highly skeptical if suppliers tell you their textile products are “bamboo.” What’s more, be careful not to convey expressly or by implication an environmental claim you can’t support with sound science.
2. Look beyond the label. It’s important that your required fibre content disclosures are accurate, but your compliance obligations don’t end there. Some companies seem to think that if they modify their content disclosures to accurately read “rayon,” they’re free to use the word “bamboo” in product titles and descriptions. That’s a mistake. If it’s not made directly of bamboo fibre, don’t call it bamboo. Not anywhere, not any way.
3. Consult the FTC Enforcement Policy Statement. We think the 2013 Policy Statement offers a commonsense approach to global supply chain issues. To what extent can your company implement the procedures outlined in the Statement?
4. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. The four companies that settled law enforcement actions today all received warning letters in 2010. Those letters used a procedure outlined in Section 5(m)(1)(B) of the FTC Act for putting businesses on notice that certain practices are unfair or deceptive – in this instance, failing to use proper fibre names in labeling and advertising textile products. Under that portion of the law, future violations committed “with actual knowledge” that a practice is unfair or deceptive can result in civil penalties. Bed Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, and Backcountry.com may have initially taken the warning to heart, but it didn’t seem to stick. At some point, false claims crept back into their labels and ads. But this time around, violations resulted in civil penalties. If your company received one of those bamboo warning letters in 2010, it’s especially important to build compliance into the fabric of your operations.
5. Scrutinize your stock for potentially misleading bamboo claims. The FTC is sending letters to other retailers, asking them to check their inventories to ensure proper labeling and advertising of rayon textile products. As holiday shoppers make their lists and check them twice, retailers should consider a little checking of their own.