Made in the USA Brand, LLC (Made in the USA) deceived consumers by allowing any company that applied to use its “Made in USA” certification seal without independently verifying that products were actually made in the United States or disclosing that the companies certified themselves, the FTC charged in an administrative complaint.

When a company filed an application to use the “Made in USA” certification mark, Made in the USA accepted between $250 and $2,000 for a one-year license and included the applicant in a database of “certified” companies. But Made in the USA did not conduct any independent verification of the origin of the products and did not even have procedures in place to make such a determination, the FTC said. Made in the USA also never terminated a company’s use of the seal. Nor did Made in the USA disclose to consumers that some companies engaged in self-certification.

The FTC noted that products labeled or advertised as “Made in the USA” must be “all or virtually all” made in the United States pursuant to the agency’s Enforcement Policy Statement on U.S. Origin Claims.

The FTC alleged that defendants violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by falsely advertising that it independently and objectively evaluated whether products bearing the mark met its accreditation standard and by providing companies using the seal with the means to deceive consumers with additional false claims by listing the companies as “certified marketers” in its database.

Pursuant to the terms of a proposed settlement, Made in the USA must stop claiming that products or companies meet its certification standard unless it discloses that seal users are self-certified or it conducts “an independent and objective evaluation” that the claim is true and supported by competent and reliable evidence.

To read the complaint and proposed consent order in In the Matter of Made in the USA Brand, LLC, click here.

Why it matters: This complaint highlights the fact that false and deceptive claims can arise in various contexts – not only in express claims by advertisers, but also by the display of seals or certifications. “Seals can be very helpful when consumers purchase products based on claims that are difficult to verify – like the Made-in-the-USA claim,” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “When marketers provide seals without any verification, or without telling consumers the seal is unverified, consumers are deceived and the value of all marketers’ seals is diminished. This case makes it clear that the FTC will not let that happen.” The FTC has pursued similar claims against companies making deceptive use of “green” or eco-friendly certifications.