Click here to order the December 2015 issue in which this article appeared.
It’s hard to believe another year is about to come to a close. When I think back on what we’ve been able to accomplish together in 2015, it’s clear that our progress is possible because of the strong partnership between the Direct Selling Association (DSA), the Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF) and, of course, our members, who work across dozens of industries for the benefit of the retail sales channel we believe in so deeply, and that we know benefits so many Americans in numerous ways.
Perhaps our biggest collective achievement in the past 12 months was putting in place a structure that yielded, through months of hard work and consensus building, some of the most substantial revisions to our Code of Ethics in the history of the Association. As I mentioned in this column earlier this year, the Code has always been a living document, changing from time to time as the marketplace and stakeholders’ expectations have evolved. That’s one of the advantages of a robust system of self-regulation—the ability to act quickly. Our actions give greater clarity and guidance regarding earning and product claims, and provide the DSA Code Administrator with greater authority to resolve disputes, making DSA and the direct selling channel even stronger. Additionally, the creation of a public registry of complaints and resolutions will enhance the credibility of the Code.
Since these notable changes to DSA’s Code of Ethics were announced, the Communications Committee has begun to implement a comprehensive stakeholder education and engagement campaign for member company executives and members of the salesforce. Working together, we organized two educational webinars and a series of fact sheets that discuss Code modifications and why they matter so that members understand what it will take to comply with the new provisions when they take effect on January 1, 2016. Also in the works is a compendium of best practices for member companies to consult for guidance in various areas, such as earning and product claims, and a toolkit of materials that, utilized by member companies, will speak directly to members of the salesforce about these important issues.
Earlier this year, DSEF set the stage for these important initiatives at an event that examined different approaches to responsible, consumer-centric self-regulation around the Federal Trade Commission’s National Consumer Protection Week.
DSA also scored some notable victories in the states in 2015, including helping prevent damaging legislative proposals in Illinois and Rhode Island and keep in place a law in Montana, which DSA helped pass, that exempts our member companies from having to register with the state as multi-level marketers due to their strong commitment on ethics and compliance with the Code.
At the federal level, more than 30 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle joined a new Direct Selling Caucus co-chaired by Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Marc Veasey (D-TX). Direct Selling Day on Capitol Hill was a resounding success, with more than 500 distributors from nearly 20 companies and 32 states participating in meetings with members of Congress and their staffs, a bipartisan speakers program and a new Direct Selling Marketplace offering a glimpse of our business to the policymakers whose support we must constantly continue to cultivate. The Association and members of our Government Relations Committee also met with dozens of federal policymakers to begin to educate them on the challenges in the direct selling marketplace around what makes a pyramid scheme a fraud. Following up on that important effort, we also released new research from independent experts at NERA Economic Consulting that offers new insight into this issue.
DSA members also participated in a series of two events this year with the respected Washington D.C. think-tank American Action Forum. These events help educate policymakers about the value of direct selling through enlightened policy dialogue on the importance of independent work and its benefits in a constantly changing economy. The public affairs team will continue to pursue opportunities that elevate our channel with policymakers by injecting our issues into relevant conversations at relevant times.
Globally, DSA engaged in high-level trade negotiations with officials representing 51 countries involved in the Trade-In Services Agreement (TISA). DSA and its member companies are actively pursuing a direct selling addition to the agreement that would open trade between participating nations and facilitate the continued growth and success of direct selling globally. The adoption of the direct selling addition would ensure that millions of independent entrepreneurial opportunities in both new and existing markets are not inadvertently prohibited.
As I look back at 2015, proud of our accomplishments, I am also realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. On many occasions in our more than 100-year history we have faced—and overcome—adversity because we stuck together. As we navigate what is to come, it is this same spirit of partnership and solutions-driven thinking that will make the future bright.
Joseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association.