Relationship between MLM and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

A vital question that is often asked of us relates to the relationship between the direct selling, network marketing and MLM industry and the FTC. It has been a bumpy road. I can say that today it is a cooperative road, but early on in the aftermath of the Dare to Be Great pyramid schemes in the 1960s and in 1975, the FTC challenged Amway as being an illegal pyramid scheme. After four years of litigation in 1979, an administrative law judge of the FTC ruled that Amway was a legitimate business opportunity which has now paved the way for every other company that has ever come along. The ruling was based on the fact that Amway promoted retail sales, had a buyback policy for people who had inventory and wanted to leave the business, and adopted a 70 Percent Rule, encouraging people and telling people to please don’t buy more product unless they have either used or sold the product previously purchased. These became known as the “Amway Safeguards” and they have been cited in every case ever since. 

That was the last the industry heard from the FTC, for the most part, other than various product-related issues. That is, until the mid-1990s when the FTC started to revisit the question of personal use by distributors. Some of the consent decrees with companies that were really egregious violators, were not in adjudicated rulings, but consent decrees, the FTC’s position was that at least 50 percent of product needs to be sold outside of the distributor network for a company to be legitimate. This put a lot of tension on a lot of companies, particularly health products companies that have a lot of personal use. There has been a lot of debate back-and-forth and a number of states, at the request of the industry, have changed their pyramid statutes to recognize personal use as a legitimate end-destination and an ongoing dialogue still occurs with the FTC.  In fact, in a 2004 FTC Staff Advisory Opinion, the FTC actually recognized the validity of personal use by distributors so long as the purchases of product are founded on the actual desire for the product as opposed to pyramid schemes in which distributor purchases are often primarily to merely qualify in the business opportunity.  Said the FTC, “..the purchase of goods and services is not merely incidental to the right to participate in a money-making venture, but rather the very reason participants join the program.”

Today, at industry conferences, the FTC is a participant and it always tends to assure the industry it recognizes its industry. As a matter of fact, just a couple of years ago, the FTC sought to modify its Business Opportunity Rule and considered some options that would have made it much more restrictive for MLM companies to recruit. After an onslaught of letters and comments to the FTC, the FTC modified its position on the Business Opportunity Rule and came into agreement for the most part with the industry on how things should go.

There will always be tension between the FTC and the industry on the issue of personal use, and overall, there seems to be a consensus. It is the observation in the industry that the FTC chases after egregious companies and does not chase after what we would normally consider legitimate companies.

For more information about network marketing and the FTC, watch the companion video to this blog post: What is the Relationship between MLM and the FTC?

Or, read one of our many articles on the Federal Trade Commission:

FTC Guidelines on Endorsements and Testimonials
FTC Guidelines Resource Center
FTC Guidelines Endorsements and Testimonials: Detailed Analysis
FTC News Release on Endorsements and Testimonials
FTC Complete Guidelines Release
FTC Short Version Guidelines Release
FTC Examples of Material Connection
FTC Regulation of Advertising

FTC Proposed Business Opportunity Rule: Analysis and Updates:
New! The FTC Final Business Opportunity Rule: Still Work to Do
FTC Exemption Draft Falls Short … and DSA Suggest Revisions
FTC Exempts MLM from Proposed Business Opportunity Rule
DSA Position on FTC MLM Exemption Proposed Business Opportunity Rule
Analysis and Industry Response
Actual Text of Proposed Rule
FTC Speaks Out
DSA Speaks Out
DSWA Speaks Out
MLMIA Speaks Out
DRA Speaks Out
MLMLegal.Com Speaks Out

FTC v. BurnLounge: Lessons Learned for MLM/Direct Selling

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