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Larry Thomas

FTC says material makeup ‘should be disclosed'

HIGH POINT - The popularity of bonded leather and other faux leather products has, at times, caused confusion in the marketplace since many of these products have the look and feel of top-grain leather.
     But Federal Trade Commission guidelines say that any non-leather product that appears to be leather "should be disclosed," and goes on to say that products using terms such as bonded leather, shredded leather, pulverized leather, reconstituted leather or ground leather need to disclose the percentage of leather and non-leather materials.
"A material in an industry product that contains ground, pulverized, shredded, reconstituted or bonded leather and thus is not wholly from the hide of an animal should not be represented directly, or by implication, as being leather," reads the FTC's Guides for Select Leather and Imitation Leather Products.
     Interestingly, the word "furniture" is nowhere to be found in the Guides, which were last reviewed by the commission in 2008.
     It says the regulations apply to suitcases, footwear, purses, wallets, and some 22 other products, but makes no mention of furniture.
     In its 2008 decision to continue using the Guides, the FTC, in fact, rejected a proposal by the trade group Leather Industries of America to specifically include upholstered furniture and automotive seating.
     "The current record leaves unanswered questions regarding the extent of misrepresentation in other industries, consumer interpretation of the appearance of leather products in other industries, and any special considerations for other industries," read the commission's decision.
     However, the commission noted that any product using leather or imitation leather could be subject to FTC enforcement if the Guides aren't followed.
     "The Guides are interpretive of laws enforced by the Commission, which may take action against companies engaged in deception, regardless of whether they fall within the scope of the Guides," the commission said.
     In comments submitted to the FTC for its review of the Guides, the leather trade group also recommended adding a specific definition of leather, as well as definitions of related terms such as top grain leather, corrected grain leather, semi-aniline leather, split leather and bonded leather.
     The commission ultimately decided not to include any definitions, however, because it uncovered no evidence that consumers would be able to understand them.
     "(I)t is difficult to determine whether adoption of the definitions would assist or hinder consumers," the commission said. "For these reasons, the Commission is not adding these suggested definitions."
     The commission noted that bonded leather, in particular, was already covered by the requirement for disclosure of the percentages of leather and non-leather substances.
     "Use of the term ‘bonded leather' without a truthful content disclosure is not in compliance with the Guides, regardless of the percentage of leather fiber content in the material so described," the commission said. "If the product is labeled in compliance (with the Guides), consumers are made aware of the true composition of the product and are not deceived."

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