The proposed legislation, SSB 5171, aims to tackle gender-based price discrimination, making it illegal. This week, the House heard the bill, although it was treated as a new bill because the version passed by the Senate was significantly different from the original.
WR supports the bill’s intent but took an “oppose” position for two primary reasons. First, manufacturers are the party in control of wholesale pricing, and retailers merely mark the product up to the manufacturer’s recommended retail price. Second, manufacturers know the substantive differences between two similar products in terms of materials used and investment into the product’s research and development. WR reasoned to lawmakers not to hold retailers accountable for pricing structures that are not in their control. The majority did not adopt the amendment acceptable to retailers on the Senate Floor.
Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, filed the gender-based pricing bill following a presentation by six Kirkland high school students. The students claimed that studies have shown that prices for personal care products marketed to women are 13% higher, on average than for men.
Proponents of SSB 5171 have suggested that retailers could show a product’s wholesale cost as a defense against gender-based discriminatory pricing. Unfortunately, should a retailer be accused of price discrimination, they would incur attorney fees and damage to their reputation damage regardless of the outcome. This unnecessary burden could be avoided by amending the bill as WR suggested.
This bill is modeled after a similar California law, which was passed just three months ago. Washington’s Legislature can do better by avoiding inequitable burdens on retailers, of which approximately 90% are small businesses. WR’s testimony also expressed the position of the Korean Association of Grocers (KAGRO), a partner organization with over 300 small grocery stores owned and operated by Korean Americans.
WR and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) will continue working to improve this bill with the House Consumer Protection and Business Committee.