Just recently, BBC director general Sir Tony Hall was widely reported in the press saying that the world is in the grip of the biggest attack on the truth since the 1930s (the decade which saw the rise of fascism and Hitler).
The internet has many upsides to it and has brought innumerable improvements to our lives. It’s not a clock anyone should want to turn back.
But it also has its downsides. One of which is too easily and irresponsibly enabling an environment in which rogue traders can apparently operate with ease and unconcern about being caught. Truth – or honesty and transparency – is largely ignored and widely flouted.
From the bed industry’s perspective, that means far too many companies selling mattresses which are not at all as described. As the NBF's recent due diligence testing revealed, claims are made for fillings materials which are either totally absent or present in such minimal quantities they could not possibly provide the benefits those materials are supposed to bring. The same is true of spring units, with spring counts less than half or even a quarter than the numbers cited. We have even found used spring units inside a mattress sold as new.
These businesses undercut and damage all those trying to do things properly. And of course the trusting consumer has no way of knowing they are being sold a lie, unless they cut open their mattresses to look inside!
Of course, we report all our findings to the relevant authorities. But we all know that public funding is critically short and trading standards have to prioritise their limited resources towards those cases which put consumers’ safety at risk.
So, do we just shrug our shoulders and complain bitterly of the unfairness of it all to anyone who will listen? Or do we take more positive, constructive action?
That’s what the NBF are trying to do. With our Code of Practice, we are aiming to put clear water between those companies who aim to do the right thing and those who are deliberately deceitful.
We know the message is getting through, with many retailers now insisting all their suppliers are NBF members. But there is much work still to be done to raise awareness of this issue – with consumers, internet platforms (who must surely take more responsibility for what is sold on their sites, just as any retailer must for the products it sells), and of course producers and suppliers using those platforms too.
We are told time and again that consumers today want transparency. We’ve all seen the damage that can be done to brands when that trust is publicly broken. However, such worthy intentions melt away when a bargain is spotted. The old adage – ‘if it’s too good to be true, it probably is’ – holds very true in our sector.
We are committed to working with our members tirelessly to improve standards, and urge the industry to work together to encourage consumers to be more cautious in their buying habits and check they are dealing with reputable suppliers.
Jessica Alexander is the executive director of the National Bed Federation (NBF), the recognised trade association representing UK manufacturers of beds and their suppliers. Founded in 1912, the federation’s members today account for some 75% of the UK’s total bedding turnover.