From 11 February 2019, UK retailers may face legal sanctions for advertising products as containing fake fur when they are actually made from real fur.
On 17 January, the Compliance Team of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) issued an enforcement notice, after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found online retailer Boohoo had been selling a jumper covered in pom poms made of real fur without advertising it as such.
The ASA also reviewed a product listing on Amazon by Zacharia Jewellers, after The Humane Society International revealed that it had incorrectly labelled its pom pom headband as being made of fake fur. The ASA concluded that the listing was misleading and thus in breach of both CAP Code 3.1 and 3.7. These echo the content of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs), which “prohibits commercial practices which are likely to materially distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer”.
The enforcement notice compels retailers to take immediate action to ensure they are compliant with these rules, as from 11 February the CAP will take “targeted enforcement action to ensure a level-playing-field”. Importantly, it will be willing to make referrals to their legal backstop, Trading Standards (TS) if retailers are unwilling to comply with ASA rules. TS has the power to prosecute companies in the Magistrates’ or Crown Court, which could result in unlimited fines or up to two years imprisonment. TS has said it will publicise convictions in order to deter other businesses from engaging in bad practice. It can also confiscate financial assets, suspend licenses and demand on the spot fines, among other sanctions.
The notice also provides retailers and consumers with some guidance on how to determine whether the fur is real or fake. It identified laboratory testing as the most reliable method for retailers, while customers could check items themselves with relative ease by checking whether the fur’s base material is a natural leather or a woven fabric, and by burning a little of the fur to see if it singes or melts.
The CAP has said its stance is neutral on the ethics of commercial animal fur use, since it is still legally traded in the UK. Rather it aims to protect consumers from being misled by false labelling and advertisements.
Executive director of HSI, Claire Bass, commented that consumers had "the right to be confident that when they buy faux fur they are not being duped into buying the exact animal cruelty they are trying to avoid."
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