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Improved labels on winter duvets

18 April 2005

Consumers should notice improved labels on winter duvets

Consumers thinking about buying a new duvet this winter should be able to rely on clearer and more accurate labelling as they make their choice, says Commerce Commission Director of Fair Trading Deborah Battell.

Following an investigation last year, the Commission alerted the feather and down industry of its concerns that some manufacturers and retailers were not accurately representing the composition of their products. The investigation resulted in the Commission issuing nine compliance advice letters to individual traders, and many retailers altering the labelling of their products to avoid consumers being mislead.

“When a retailer makes a representation that a product is manufactured to, or has a particular percentage of a particular item, then that percentage must be met or exceeded,” said Ms Battell.
“The labelling of any ‘feather’ or ‘down’ product, which include duvets, pillows, sleeping bags and clothing, must accurately describe what the actual ‘feather’ and ‘down’ content of the product is. This means that a claim of 100 percent, or any other content percentage, should be exactly that.”

Ms Battell added that that there was significant performance and cost differences between goose and duck down, and that some consumers specifically purchased ‘down’ products because of their performance qualities.

“Some of the issues with labelling have arisen because of tolerances allowed in some voluntary industry standards. This includes the Australian and New Zealand AS2479 standard which requires that the down content of a duvet is at least 85 percent of the label content.”
“This means that a ‘100 percent down’ duvet can have as little as 85 percent ‘down’ content, and consumers may not have been getting the product they thought they were.

“In the Commission’s view, the need to label accurately under the Fair Trading Act overrides any permissible standard or labelling tolerances specified in any voluntary standard.”

There is widespread use in the marketplace of representations on labelling for duvet products including packaging, referring to the percentage of down and/ or feather content. These have included 100% down, 80% down/20% feather and 50% down /50%feather.
New Zealand manufacturers and traders report using varying standards, with some manufacturers and traders complying with parts of the Australian Standard (manufacturing tolerances) but appearing not to comply with other parts (labelling requirements). One manufacturer was producing to the American FTC standard, rescinded in 1998, which allowed down products to be labelled as “100% down” when they could contain as little as 70% down.

The Commission undertook an investigation following a complaint from a home furnishing retailer alleging significant differences between the down content labelling and the actual down content of individual duvets.

The Commission met with a number of New Zealand duvet manufacturers and retailers, and also issued compliance advice letters. The Commission is aware that some manufacturers have changed labels as a result, and that, in other cases, major retailers have required the manufacturers to change their labels. The Commission will, however, keep an eye on the industry.

If the Commission decides that the labelling or representations made regarding down and feather duvets is likely to have breached the Act, it can take a range of enforcement actions including issuing a warning, entering into a settlement on the basis of undertakings or taking court action either through the criminal or civil jurisdictions. Court penalties for breaching the Act can include fines of up to $200,000 for a company and $60,000 for an individual. Only the courts can decide if a representation has breached the Act.


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