WASHINGTON – The Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit Monday against six major retailers and fashion designers alleging they falsely advertise and label fur garments.
The suit claims that Dillard's, Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and designer Andrew Marc misrepresent fur products by labeling and marketing them as "faux fur," when they are not; or by advertising and labeling products as common raccoon, fox or rabbit fur, when they are really made from raccoon dog, a canine species from Asia.
The complaint also alleges that the retailers are in violation of the federal Fur Products Labeling Act and Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibit mislabeling of fur products.
Rebecca Judd, senior attorney with the Humane Society, said the group is seeking a court order to halt to what she called deceptive business practices by retailers.
"We filed this after we tried now for several years to have the fur industry stop their widespread false advertising and labeling," Judd said.
She added the group wants to alert consumers, especially those concerned about animal welfare, that fur garments are "best left out of the shopping bag."
Representatives from Macy's and Neiman Marcus said they don't comment on pending litigation. Dillard's, Lord & Taylor and Andrew Marc did not return telephone calls for comment. A representative from Saks could not be immediately reached by The Associated Press after calls seeking comment.
Judd said the suit was filed in D.C. under its Consumer Protection Procedures Act because the Humane Society focused much of its investigation in the Washington region. All the retailers named in the suit have stores in the area. Andrew Marc sells his brands online and in retail stores around Washington.
Since it began investigating in 2005, Judd said the Humane Society has sent dozens of letters to retailers — including those named in Monday's suit — informing them of their findings.
Some companies, including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger stopped selling fur products, Judd said. Others, such as rap artist Sean "Diddy" Combs, quit producing coats from his Sean John line that had raccoon dog fur; and rapper Jay-Z pulled coats with raccoon dog from his Rocawear label.
Raccoon dogs resemble oversized, fluffy raccoons and aren't kept as pets. According to the suit, more than 1.5 million of them are being raised for their fur in China, and have been documented to be skinned alive. Importing raccoon dog fur isn't illegal.
The Humane Society never received a "written commitment to stop selling mislabeled fur" from the six defendants after alerting them to the group's findings, Judd said.
The defendants are also among more than 20 companies named in two legal petitions the Humane Society filed earlier this year and in 2007 with the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces the federal fur labeling act.
In the petitions, the animal rights group ask the commission to fine the high-end retailers and designers of clothing that contains mislabeled fur. The group also would like inventories seized and, possibly, charges filed.
In 2007, Charles Jayson, chief executive of Andrew Marc, disputed the Humane Society and insisted in a statement that all fur on his coats labeled as raccoon contains "only farm-bred raccoon fur from Finland, and our items labeled 'faux fur' are a 100 percent synthetic fabric."
Mislabeling fur is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or a year in prison. Fur valued at less than $150 doesn't have to be labeled.
The petitions are still pending.
The Humane Society said it began investigating mislabeled fur claims after the society got a tip from someone who bought a coat with trim labeled as faux fur that felt real. At the time, teams bought coats from popular retailers and then had the coats tested by mass spectrometry, which measures the mass and sequence of proteins.
The society said most of the fur came from China.
Associated Press writer Sarah Skidmore contributed to this report.