Here’s something you don’t hear every day: “FTC Commissioner Praises Direct Sellers”
That’s exactly what a reporter from The Hill wrote after attending DSEF’s April 6 event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC: Consumer Protection: A Multi-Industry Conversation on Ethics & Self-Regulation.
The event featured opening remarks from Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and panelists from several industries—including Direct Selling Association President Joe Mariano. “This public forum not only demonstrated our industry’s commitment to ethics, it embodied the Foundation’s mission to advance understanding of the direct selling business model and our industry’s leadership role in consumer protection,” said Gary Huggins, DSEF Executive Director.
The roundtable discussion on consumer protection issues and the role of self-regulation was moderated by George Washington University Professor Howard Beales, former director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. Joe was joined on the panel by Lynne Omlie, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Senior Vice President, Secretary & General Counsel; and C. Lee Peeler, Advertising Self-Regulatory Council (ASRC) CEO and Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) Executive Vice President of National Advertising.
Kicking off the discussion, Commissioner Olhausen described ingredients necessary to successfully protect consumers. “Consumer expectations for transparency and corporate responsibility continue to evolve, so too must the framework used to safeguard the public,” she said. “There are three elements that must be present to provide effective consumer protection: law enforcement, education and self-regulation. I like to think of it as a three-legged stool. If any of these factors is missing or not functioning effectively, the stool will at best be off-balance and at worst, topple over.”
Introducing the panelists, Dr. Beales noted there is no “one right way” for industries to self-regulate and Lee Peeler agreed. “Today’s discussion is an excellent opportunity to share best practices in three successful self-regulation models and how we might adjust our approaches to better meet the needs of consumers,” he said, adding that the hallmark of effective self-regulation include clear standards, transparency, accountability, industry support and adequate funding.
All three panelists stressed the importance of adapting to changing consumer needs and market atmospheres. “It is critical that we continue to perfect our Code of Ethics” Joe Mariano said. “Later this year, we will further strengthen these best-in-class consumer protections by introducing greater transparency around enforcement and enhancing protections against false earnings claims. We choose to lead by example so every direct selling company in the United States has an incentive to do better by its customers. That’s why today’s discussion is so important.”
Lynne Omlie shared anecdotes from DISCUS’s self-regulation efforts, noting that all complaints they receive are resolved within seven days of being logged. She touted the evolution the council’s code, saying, “Our Code is a living document that has evolved over time as social mores and technology change, reflecting our industry’s steadfast commitment to effective self-regulation in both traditional and emerging marketing platforms.”
Thirty-nine people attended the event, including CBBB staff, consumer protection leaders, local county regulators and representatives from Amway, Herbalife and Mary Kay. Attendees received DSEF’s Consumer Protection Toolkit, created to support the FTC’s in their efforts to educate the public about fraud, deception and unfair business practices in the marketplace. The kit includes various resources from the FTC and other state and local consumer organizations, as well as materials highlighting the consumer protections measures afforded by DSA’s Code of Ethics.
As the panel discussion drew to a close, DSEF Executive Director Gary Huggins told attendees that the morning’s discussion marked the first of many such Foundation events as part of its work to advance understanding of direct selling and promote the industry’s commitment to ethics, consumer protection and self-regulation. “American consumers deserve the highest level of ethics from companies they do business with. A commitment to effective self-regulation by industry leaders is critical to safeguarding their rights,” he said. “We thank FTC for its tireless work on behalf of consumers and look forward to continuing to work with regulators and industry colleagues to ensure consumer protections remain a fundamental goal.”