Although wool is one of the oldest natural fibers, it is still one of the most commonly used fibers in products ranging from clothing, to household items. As a result, it’s perhaps not surprising that one of our country’s first consumer protection statutes focused on the manufacture, sale, and distribution of wool.
The Wool Products Labeling Act was enacted in 1939 and requires that most household and personal products that contain wool have a label that follows specific style and formatting requirements and that explains to consumers the actual percentage of wool and other fibers in the product, and the country from which the wool came. The label must also include the name of the manufacturer of the wool product or, in its place, a number that the manufacturer can obtain from the Federal Trade Commission to identify itself to consumers (a “Registered Identification Number”) The Act also defines certain industry and trade terms to promote uniformity. For example, in order for pants to carry the designation “Super 100’s” the statute requires that the average diameter of the wool fiber is 18.75 microns, or less.
The number of companies that have applied to the Federal Trade Commission for a Registered Identification Number to be used on wool, fur, or textile products.1
The number of items marketed by one on-line retailer as containing “wool.”2
The number of animals from which fibers may be taken and still called “wool” under the Act.3
If your company sells wool products you should consider the following guidelines to reduce litigation and regulatory risks:
- Considering Obtaining a Separate Guarantee. The Act creates a safe harbor that protects retailers of wool products if they inadvertently sell misbranded wool products. Pursuant to the Act, a retailer can obtain a “guaranty” from a manufacturer or distributor in the United States which states that specific wool products are not misbranded. Such guarantees can be incorporated into the invoice or other documentation provided to the retailer.
- Considering Requesting a Continuing Guarantee. The Act also permits manufacturers and distributors to simplify the guarantee process by filing a “continuing guarantee” with the Federal Trade Commission. A continuing guarantee refers to a standing guarantee that a manufacturer or distributor makes to all potential purchasers of its wool products. By filing such a guarantee the manufacturer or distributor need not separately provide each of its retail clients with a specific guarantee. the Federal Trade Commission.
- Responding to Inquiries. If you receive an inquiry from a consumer, competitor, or trade association that questions the accuracy of a wool label, consider asking the product’s distributor or manufacturer to re-verify the accuracy of the wool label.
- Testing. If you receive multiple reports that the wool composition of products that you sell may not match the product’s label, consider the feasibility of testing a selection of products provided by a specific vendor to verify the accuracy of the product’s label.
- Vendor Relationship. If you discover that a vendor has provided misbranded wool products consider obtaining additional assurances that future product will be accurately branded, or investigating the vendor’s processes and procedures for verifying the mix of fibers used in their products. If you discover that a vendor has repeatedly provided misbranded wool products consider whether the relationship with the vendor should be re-evaluated.