A lawsuit filed Wednesday by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson claims the world’s largest for-profit thrift store mislead customers to believe all purchases benefited charities.
The allegations filed against Value Village hit at the heart of the business that works with and benefits several Seattle area charities.
“Value Village has been deceptive in how they promote themselves, and how they promote to consumers what they get if they make a purchase or donation at their stores,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Ferguson said Value Village is a billion-dollar company, but appeared to be marketing itself like a non-profit.
“You cannot engage in unfair and deceptive business practices you can’t. Even if a small part of what you do goes to good causes, that’s wonderful, but you have to be clear and transparent about how you are doing your business with consumers,” said Ferguson.
Value Village does pay charities and here’s how it works. Donations are made to a Value Village associated charity, Value Village buys the items from the charity and then Value Village sells those items for a profit.
Ferguson said advertising that promises that purchases leads to company made donations are deceptive.
“They are explicit in their advertising they suggest that if you buy goods at Value Village money is going to charities even specific charities. Not true, if you make a purchase at Value Village, not one dime goes to a charity,” said Ferguson.
Value Village works with some of the region’s most well-known charities – like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Northwest Center.
“Last year alone, we paid non-profits 13 million dollars in this state. And over a decade we’ve paid them over 120 million dollars,” said General Counsel for Value Village Richard Medway
Medway hadn’t seen the complaint until I gave it to him.
He said the company’s business model is transparent and has filed its proper paperwork with the Washington Secretary of State’s office.
“We are very proud of the way we’ve come up with this model that helps non-profits fund their missions through donated goods,” said Medway.
Value Village said it has been cooperating with the Attorney General’s office for years.
“We’ve done all of the things the attorney general has asked us to do before the attorney general ever even asked” said Medway.
Ferguson said he got a 2015 contract showing what Value Village paid one charity for donated items:
-Soft goods (such as clothing and shoes): $0.04 per pound
-Miscellaneous (housewares, toys, books, etc.): $0.02 per pound
-Furniture and other large items: $0.02 per item
The charities we spoke to said they have no issues with their relationship with Value Village. None of them voiced any complaints about the company.