Click here to order the March 2016 issue in which this article appeared.
One of the best things about working with the Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF) is that I have been able to engage organizations from the educational, consumer protection and regulatory communities during the past 30 years.
In order to fulfill our educational mission, we are constantly seeking out opportunities to explain and reinforce the value of direct selling. That involves helping people from different constituencies appreciate how our business works and how it benefits millions of Americans and the economy.
The reason this work is so important is that it takes an understanding and appreciation of multiple stakeholders in order to have a system of self-regulation that everyone feels good about. That is why DSEF is pleased to be partnering with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) again this year as it commemorates National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW).
NCPW is a great opportunity for our community, as well as other consumer-facing industries, to showcase how we are working together to keep consumers and direct sellers safe. Last year, DSEF developed a branded Consumer Protection Toolkit that we shared with the FTC and made available to other constituencies. We also organized an educational panel discussion on systems of effective self-regulation with representatives from other industries that included positive remarks from FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen about our approach.
By supporting the FTC in its efforts to encourage consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better informed decisions, DSEF is providing consumer protection education resources to a wider audience, deepening our existing relationships and building bridges to new partners. This year, DSEF will launch a dedicated webpage that curates consumer protection resources from a variety of sources, providing consumers with all the information in a central location.
We also understand that for self-regulation to truly be effective over time, systems must evolve in order to keep up with changing stakeholder demands. Last year, the U.S. Direct Selling Association (DSA) undertook a critical examination of its Code of Ethics, which resulted in substantial improvements to policies on how earnings and health claims are presented. This year, the Association will continue to seek out opportunities for improvements that build on our heritage of consumer protection, while educating members, direct sellers and external audiences about how the principles enshrined in our Code can be best translated into the everyday business of marketing, selling and ensuring satisfaction.
Self-regulation in direct selling adds value because it is agile and responsive; it allows companies and the administrator of our Code to more quickly and effectively respond to consumers’ concerns. It also is measured, as remedies can be handed down that are commensurate with complaints. Yet with the flexibility that self-regulation brings also comes an enormous responsibility for direct sellers to continue to engage others constructively.
Effective self-regulation begins with understanding—and understanding requires education. As the direct selling community helps the FTC commemorate NCPW this year, we renew our commitment of reaching out well past our own constituency in order to have our industry live up to its full potential.
Joseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association.