Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal weighs in on the ongoing fight to have animal fur properly labeled in retail stores
Have you ever stopped to think what you’re wearing might not actually be what it claims to be? This past fall, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) went undercover and found numerous clothing items in Century 21 stores, labeled “faux fur,” in fact contained real fur. As of March 2012, all retailers are required to indicate when real animal fur is used in a product, regardless of the fur’s dollar value. Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who passed legislation to require better fur labeling in 2007 and continues to fight for the issue, having just proposed new legislation to increase fines for violations of 2007 law, answers our questions about why this is still a problem for retailers who may not even be aware of what they’re selling, and consumers, who are often even more in the dark.
Can you talk about why this mislabeling of animal fur in stores like Century 21 is such an important issue?
There are many people who would prefer not to wear fur, either for ethical or other reasons. In 2007, I passed legislation to require all apparel with real or fake fur to be labeled as real or fake, so that shoppers could have easy access to this important product information. People rely on the labels to make informed and ethical decisions about the kinds of products they are buying. Incorrect or missing labels mislead the public. I am a staunch advocate for truth in labeling. When people are spending their hard-earned money, they should get what they think they are paying for.
Why this happening in the first place — why is actual fur being used in clothing products and not being properly labeled? Is it often just cheaper to produce?
I’m really not sure why retailers are not taking this issue more seriously. People who care about animal welfare are oftentimes very committed to this issue. They have chosen to live their lives ethically, in every respect. From not eating meat to not wearing fur, this decision represents a lifestyle choice, and one that is entitled to respect from retailers. The fact that retailers claim little or no responsibility on this issue demonstrates a critical misunderstanding of their market, and frankly, disrespects the choices made by thousands of potential customers.
In addition, I think many major retailers would like to hide the fact that they are using Raccoon dog fur, a “less luxurious” fur according to those in fashion. Raccoon dogs are native to Asia, and though social animals who live in couples in the wild, they are held in captivity in China and Finland and skinned alive for their fur. I doubt that anyone would willingly sport fur from raccoon dogs. Federal law requires retailers to list the country of origin and species of animal of any fur garment sold in the United States. Rather than reveal that the fur is in fact raccoon dog, the fur is labeled as faux instead.
How widespread an issue do you think this is in the City?
It would appear, based on the results of the HSUS investigation, that the problem is incredibly widespread. Major retailers, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s and Century 21, have all been found guilty of violating the New York State law requiring clear labeling of real and faux fur. I venture that these stores represent only the tip of the iceberg, and it is clear that retailers need to become better educated with respect to their duties.
How can we better regulate labeling systems and what steps should be taken to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen?
It’s critical that we hold retailers accountable to abide by all the laws governing their industry. This investigation has uncovered some major wrongdoing by a number of major retailers, and hopefully these companies will recognize their misdeeds and take immediate action to correct the problem and prevent it from happening in the future.
In addition, I will be introducing legislation that will increase the fines associated with violating the law I passed in 2007. The original fines, $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for each successive violation, were clearly too small to compel compliance. Particularly when you are dealing with million or billion dollar companies, ensuring that the amount of the fine is directly correlated to the seriousness of the violation is key. This new bill will increase the fines to $1,500 for the first violation and $3,000 for each successive violation. This will be a good start.
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