Photo of Sheila MillarPhoto of Jean-Cyril Walker

The push to “Buy American” aims to encourage consumers and businesses to support homegrown industry.  So, when a water filter maker’s claims of “buil[t] in the U.S.” didn’t hold water, the company quickly found itself in a sea of trouble with the FTC.

Georgia-based iSpring advertised and sold its water filter to consumers on its website as well as via major retailers such as Amazon, Overstock, Sears, Home Depot, and Walmart.  The FTC complaint alleged that iSpring Water Systems misled consumers with “false, misleading, or unsupported claims” that its water filtration systems are “Built in USA.” The problem, FTC alleged, was that the company used substantial components produced overseas.

Under the standard terms of its settlement with the FTC, iSpring is prohibited from making any representation regarding country of origin unless such representation is demonstrably true and cannot describe its products as “Made in USA” unless it can establish that virtually all of its components are sourced and manufactured in the United States. Qualified “Made in USA” claims are, of course, permissible so long as iSpring makes them “include a clear and conspicuous disclosure about the extent to which the product contains foreign parts, ingredients, [or] processing.”

“Supporting American manufacturing is important to many consumers. If a product is advertised or labelled as ‘made’ or ‘built’ in the USA, consumers rightly expect that to be the case when they part with their hard-earned money,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen. “This is an important issue for American business and their customers, and the FTC will remain vigilant in this area.”

Many consumers do look for products made in America.  The decision confirms that the FTC, which has been very active in enforcing against similar products over the past couple of years, will continue to take a close look at such claims.  Public comments on the proposed agreement will be accepted until March 3, 2017, and interested parties can submit comments here.