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Laura Kim

Laura Kim draws upon her experience in senior positions at the Federal Trade Commission to advise clients across industries on complex advertising, privacy, and data security matters. She provides practical compliance advice and represents clients in FTC and State AG investigations. Ms. Kim advises on a wide range of consumer protection issues, including green claims, influencers, native advertising, claim substantiation, Made in USA claims, children's privacy, subscription auto-renewal marketing, and other digital advertising matters. In addition, Ms. Kim actively practices before the NAD, including recent successful resolution of matters for both challengers and advertisers. She co-chairs Covington's Advertising and Consumer Protection Practice Group and participates in the firm's Internet of Things Initiative.

Ms. Kim re-joined Covington after a twelve-year tenure at the FTC, where she served as Assistant Director in two divisions of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, as well as Chief of Staff in the Bureau of Consumer Protection and Attorney Advisor to former Chairman William E. Kovacic. She worked on key FTC Rules and Guides such as the Green Guides, Jewelry Guides, and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. She supervised these and other rule making proceedings and oversaw dozens of the Commission’s investigations and enforcement actions involving compliance with these rules. Ms. Kim also supervised compliance monitoring for companies under federal court or Commission order.

Ms. Kim also served as Deputy Chief Enforcement Officer at the U.S. Department of Education, where she helped establish a new Enforcement Office within Federal Student Aid. In this role, she managed investigations of higher education institutions and oversaw issuance of fines and adverse actions for institutions in violation of federal student aid regulations. Ms. Kim also supervised the borrower defense to repayment division and the Clery campus safety and security division.

On July 9, 2024, the FTC and California Attorney General settled a case against NGL Labs (“NGL”) and two of its co-founders. NGL Labs’ app, “NGL: ask me anything,” allows users to receive anonymous messages from their friends and social media followers. The complaint alleged violations of the FTC Act, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence

2022 and 2023 may be remembered as pivotal years for efforts against so-called “greenwashing.”  In this article, we look at some recent developments in the regulation of “green claims” in the UK, the US, and the EU that corporates should be aware of.  We provide a broad summary and comparison snapshot of the UK, US and EU regimes to help companies navigate these rules.  Now is a critical time for companies to get up to speed: authorities in all three jurisdictions are focusing more and more intently on this issue; company reputations will increasingly rise and fall with the strength of their green claims, and national regulators are set to get new powers (including the power to levy significant fines) to tackle companies found in breach.

I.  Summary of recent developments: What’s new in greenwashing?

In January 2022, the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority (“CMA”) launched a sector‑by‑sector review of misleading environmental claims.  The CMA started with the fashion sector, and called out a number of high‑profile, fast‑fashion companies for their practices.  Twelve months later, the CMA announced that it was expanding the investigation to greenwashing around “household essentials”, including food, drink, toiletries and cleaning products.  The CMA’s review is the first concerted application of the CMA’s new Green Claims Code, published in September 2021, which gives guidance for any business (wherever based) making environmental claims in the UK.

Meanwhile, in December 2022, the US Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) launched a review of the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Claims” (“Green Guides”), which was last updated in 2012.  The initial comment period closed on April 24, 2023.  The FTC plans to update the Green Guides to reflect developments in consumers’ perception of environmental marketing claims.  As a part of its ongoing review, the FTC also announced a workshop to examine recyclable claims.  The workshop is scheduled for May 23, 2023 and the public can submit comments on the subject of recyclable claims through June 13, 2023.  For more detail on the review, please see our dedicated blog post, here.

Finally, the EU has proposed two Directives to modernize and harmonize the rules on green claims across the bloc (together, the “EU Green Claims Proposals”).  Currently, EU law does not specifically regulate environmental claims.  Instead, environmental claims are subject only to general consumer protection and advertising rules (set out in Directive 2005/29 on Unfair Business-to-Consumer Practices and Directive 2006/114 on Comparative Advertising).  Admittedly, the EU has published guidance on interpreting and applying the general rules in the context of green claims (see the guidance here, and see our previous blog post discussing the guidance here).  However, in practice, EU Member States approach interpretation and enforcement in a variety of different ways.  On March 3, 2022, the European Commission published a Proposal for a Directive Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition, also known as the “Greenwashing Directive.”  The Greenwashing Directive amends the EU’s existing consumer protection rules, and bans a number of general green claims, such as “climate neutral” or “eco-friendly.”  It also imposes some rules on the use of non-environmental sustainability claims or “social impact” claims, such as “locally produced” or “fair labour.”  One year later, on March 22, 2023, the European Commission presented a Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims (“Green Claims Directive”), which we discussed here.  The Green Claims Directive proposes a new and strict framework, applicable to all companies operating in the EU/EEA, to harmonize the rules on the substantiation of voluntary green claims. 

Below, we outline the key aspects of the different legislative frameworks.Continue Reading The Green Claims Global Drive: Developments in the UK, US and EU

On December 20, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced its issuance of Health Products Compliance Guidance, which updates and replaces its previous 1998 guidance, Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry.  While the FTC notes that the basic content of the guide is largely left unchanged, this guidance expands the scope of the previous guidance beyond dietary supplements to broadly include claims made about all health-related products, such as foods, over-the-counter drugs, devices, health apps, and diagnostic tests.  This updated guidance emphasizes “key compliance points” drawn from the numerous enforcement actions brought by the FTC since 1998, and discusses associated examples related to topics such as claim interpretation, substantiation, and other advertising issues.

Identifying Claims and Interpreting Advertisement Meaning

The updated guidance first discusses how claims are identified and interpreted, including the difference between express and implied claims.  The updated guidance emphasizes that the phrasing and context of an advertisement may imply that the product is beneficial to the treatment of a disease, which in turn would require that the advertiser be able to substantiate the implied claim with competent and reliable scientific evidence, even if the advertisement contains no express reference to the disease.

In addition, the updated guidance provides examples of when advertisers are expected to disclose qualifying information, such as when a product is targeted to a small percentage of the population or contains potentially serious risks.  When the qualifying information is necessary to avoid deception, the updated guidance contains a discussion of what constitutes a clear and conspicuous disclosure of that qualifying information.  Specifically, the guidance states that a disclosure is required to be provided in the same manner as the claim (i.e., if the claim is made visually, the disclosure is required to be made visually).  A visual claim should stand out, and based on its size, contract, location, and length of time is appears, must be easily noticed, read, and understood.  An audible disclosure should be at a volume, speed, and cadence so as to be easily heard and understood.  On social media, the guidance states a disclosure should be “unavoidable,” which the FTC clarifies does not include hyperlinks.  The qualifying information should not include vague qualifying terms, such as that a product “may” have benefits or “helps” achieve a benefit.Continue Reading FTC Issues New Guidance Regarding Health Products

On Monday, November 7, the Supreme Court heard argument in Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. FTC and SEC v. Cochran to decide whether a party subject to an FTC or SEC administrative proceeding can simultaneously challenge the constitutionality of an administrative proceeding, or even of the agency itself, in federal district court rather than waiting for final agency action.  At least five Justices expressed some measure of support for the private parties’ arguments, which indicates that the Court may permit certain kinds of collateral constitutional attacks (e.g., due process and appointments clause claims) at the outset of administrative proceedings.

Although predicting the outcome of any case from the oral argument is extremely difficult, three Justices – Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas – expressed strong support for finding in Axon’s and Cochran’s favor. Through their questions, they implied that 28 U.S.C. Section 1331, which grants federal district courts “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution of the United States,” provides a clear grant of jurisdiction over constitutional claims and neither the FTC Act nor the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“the Exchange Act”) could strip district courts of that jurisdiction. They also suggested that Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB requires a finding for the companies. In PCAOB, the Court held that a district court had jurisdiction to hear an appointments clause challenge to PCAOB’s structure despite the fact that the SEC had not yet issued a final order against Free Enterprise Fund.

Other justices appeared to favor the private parties, but not as overtly. Chief Justice John Roberts’s questions suggested that PCAOB may prove to be an insurmountable barrier to the government’s claims and that the availability of jurisdiction in other forums (i.e., the court of appeals) under the FTC Act and the Exchange Act clearly does not act as an implied removal of jurisdiction from Section 1331. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s questions indicated that he believes that the issue may be decided solely by reference to the “wholly collateral” factor of the Thunder Basin test, which courts have used to guide determinations about when a party may bring an Article III challenge to agency proceedings before those proceedings have concluded. Thunder Basin Coal Co. v. Reich, 510 U.S. 200 (1994) (holding that the statutory review scheme of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977 precludes a district court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over a pre-enforcement challenge to the Act). He stated that clarity, certainty, and speed counseled in favor of permitting district courts to hear constitutional claims.Continue Reading Supreme Court Considers Whether to Allow Early Constitutional Challenges to FTC and SEC Administrative Proceedings