Kwikset's product claims targeted

Suit says B&D unit falsely labels locks as `Made in the USA'

January 25, 2000|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

A Black & Decker Corp. subsidiary is being accused in a California lawsuit of making fraudulent claims that its products were made in the United States.

The lawsuit against Kwikset Corp., an Irvine, Calif.-based maker of locks and related hardware, was filed Friday in the Superior Court for the State of California in Orange County. Backed by the nonprofit group Made in the USA Foundation, the suit contends that 60 percent to 80 percent of the labor used in the production of Kwikset's locks is in Mexico. The suit was filed by James Benson, a California resident who is a member of the nonprofit group.

"Although most of the manufacturing is done in Mexicali, Mexico, they still put [the locks] in boxes that say the product is `Made in the USA,' " said Joel D. Joseph, chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation in Bethesda.

Barbara Lucas, senior vice president for public affairs for Towson-based Black & Decker, would not comment on the lawsuit except to say the company's policy "is to abide by all the appropriate rules and regulations in terms of packaging and product claims."

Kwikset's products include the Kwikset, Kwikset Plus, Titan and Geo brand names. It operates four manufacturing plants in the United States -- in Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and California -- and one in Mexico.

According to the lawsuit, the company began transferring work from its Anaheim, Calif., plant to its plant in Mexico in 1995. Since then, about 1,000 workers have been laid off from that plant and the same number have been hired in Mexico, the lawsuit said.

John Taylor, a former employee at the Anaheim plant, brought the company to the attention of the Made in the USA Foundation after questioning the use of the label on products that he said were worked on at the Mexico plant. Taylor was laid off in April by Kwikset after 18 years when the work he did in the metal-finishing department was transferred to the Mexican plant.

Elaine D. Kolish, associate director for enforcement with the Federal Trade Commission, would not comment on Kwikset, but said FTC policy requires all products labeled "Made in the USA" to be "all or virtually all" produced here.

"The basic premise of the statement is that consumers reasonably expect that a `Made in the USA' claim means that the product was entirely or just about entirely made here," Kolish said. "If it is more than a small amount of foreign content, you can't label it `Made in the USA.' "

Taylor said a consumer cannot buy a Kwikset product that did not employ significant foreign labor.

"They can't have it both ways," Joseph said. "If you are going to go down [to Mexico] for cheap labor, you can't say `Made in the USA.' "

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