JONES HIT WITH FTC SANCTION
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — Jones Apparel Group will pay $300,000 to settle Federal Trade Commission charges it provided incorrect cleaning directions on some of its garments, in one of the highest such fines ever levied, the agency announced Tuesday.
The size of the fine against Jones underscores the attention paid by agency officials in enforcing federal rules that require apparel manufacturers and importers to have tags sewn into apparel detailing how best to care for garments.
Jones joins Tommy Hilfiger USA in having paid the largest fine to settle FTC care rule charges. In 1999, Hilfiger paid $300,000 after the agency cited it for providing incomplete washing instructions that led to colors bleeding and fading.
Jones ran afoul of the Care Labeling Rule between 1998 and 2000 during “numerous instances,” the FTC wrote in its complaint against the apparel giant. In particular, the agency singled out the company for recommending flocked garments be dry cleaned, while neglecting to state at least one solvent that could be used without causing damage. The agency also charged Jones with stating “Dry Clean Only” on some cashmere sweater labels when the garments could have been hand-washed.
Because the FTC and Jones reached a settlement in the case, Jones is making no admission that a law was violated. In addition to paying the fine, Jones agreed to develop written procedures to ensure care labels are correct.
“We have not admitted to any violations. However, the allegations involve a handful of styles out of the thousands we do,” said Ira Dansky, the firm’s general counsel. “We are confident our care-labeling procedures are in compliance with the FTC Care Labeling Rule. We settled this matter to avoid the cost and time involved in a dispute.”
Joni Lupovitz, an FTC attorney who worked on the case, didn’t say how the Jones care labels came to the agency’s attention. She said consumer or industry complaints can play a role, in addition to periodic FTC testing of garments.
In order for a care label to be valid, Lupovitz cited the legal term used requiring apparel makers or importers to have a “reasonable basis” for singling out cleaning instructions. She declined to enumerate how the $300,000 fines against Jones and Hilfiger were determined. However, she noted the size of the company can be a factor. She said, “It’s a variety of things.”
Despite these hefty fines, Care Labeling Rule cases are relatively infrequent. In the last 10 years, there have been only 18 cases lodged by the FTC. Before the Jones case, Karin Stevens Inc. was the last company cited. In May 2000, Karin Stevens paid a $20,000 fine for failing to have a reasonable basis when instructing consumers to dry clean beaded garments, which resulted in damage.