MLM Trade Associations

Outstanding Trade Associations - DSA and MLMIA

By Jeff Babener, Copyright 2017

"You're in business for yourself but not by yourself."

"The DSA and the MLMIA are there to support you . . .  You have nothing to lose - and much to gain."

Network marketing companies are fond of telling their distributors, "You're in business for yourself - not by yourself," and "You're on your own, but not alone." They are referring, of course, to the broad support systems they offer their distributors to enhance their individual businesses.

As it turns out, there is yet another level of support in the industry that ties all network marketing companies and distributors together. Industry trade associations provide everyone in the networking business - at both the corporate and independent distributor levels - with a broad worldwide network.

There are two major industry trade associations: the Direct Selling Association (DSA), in Washington, D.C., and the Multi-Level Marketing International Association (MLMIA), in Newport Beach, California. Think of them as the information super highway for networkers. Whether you're with a company that sells toys or vitamins or cosmetics or encyclopedias, these organizations bring the entire industry together to create a common resource for legislative and educational support.


It's no coincidence that the MLMIA is headquartered on the sun-drenched coast of California in Newport Beach. After all, network marketing plays especially well in the Sunbelt states of California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Southern California is probably the heart of the industry.


The MLMIA was founded in 1985 and has affiliates around the world, from the South Pacific to London. Its membership tends to be a younger generation of network marketing companies, although older, more established companies are involved as well.


Highly respected management consultant, Doris Wood, founder of the MLMIA, notes the principal reasons for forming the Association: "We felt that the direct selling industry needed an organization that focused solely on the problems and issues of multilevel marketing companies. In addition, we felt that distributors needed to have a participatory role in industry issues, and therefore, we became the only trade association to accept as members both network marketing companies, as well as individual distributors. Our goal is to support the cause of multilevel marketing throughout the world."


The MLMIA has done an admirable job pursuing this cause. Its members have testified before legislatures on industry issues and filed amicus (friends of the court) briefs in important cases affecting network marketing. It has adopted ethics screening standards for its members and is often in contact with attorneys general in its effort to protect the industry by helping to weed out disreputable operators and pyramid schemes.


The MLMIA Government Industry Liaison Group, hosts a task force that has met with attorneys general and government regulators to keep the lines of communication open between the industry and government. Says MLMIA Board Chairperson, Michael Sheffield, "We have developed a fine rapport and we're on the same wavelength. We speak at their meetings and they come speak at ours. It's a beneficial relationship for both the network marketing industry and consumers."


The MLMIA makes available a wide variety of educational materials for both companies and distributors. The organization hosts ongoing conferences on the industry. At many of the conferences, specific segments are devoted to issues of particular interest to individual distributors, as well as corporate members. The segments are often referred to as "Distributor Day" or "Corporate Day."


"Since the organization is there to support both distributors and corporate members," says founder Wood, "We feel it is important to provide a balance of programs and activities." The MLMIA also makes available to its corporate and individual members a comprehensive consumer benefits and insurance package for self-employed independent distributors.


Many network marketing companies (Nuskin, Oxyfresh, Enrich, Cell Tech, and Noevir, to name a few) have joined the MLMIA, and their distributors are already eligible for the benefits the association offers. If your company isn't involved, don't be shy about getting an individual membership. You'll enjoy the benefits of being part of something bigger.


The DSA is the granddaddy of the industry, which actually goes back to 1910. One of the founding members, Avon, is still probably the most famous direct selling company in the world. (Back in those days, Avon was called the California Perfume Company.)


After early stints in New York and Minnesota, the DSA moved to Washington, D.C. in 1969, and has been there ever since. DSA organizations belonging to the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations are now located in more than 40 countries around the world, but they take their cue from the American-based DSA in Washington, D.C.


The DSA has more than 100 member companies in the United States. If you're affiliated with a company such as Amway, Mary Kay or Shaklee, chances are good that you have access to the information and support systems of the DSA through your company. DSA membership is for companies but not individual distributors. Nevertheless, the DSA issues gold identity cards to individual networkers through member companies to identify their affiliation with the DSA.


DSA representatives travel tens of thousands of miles every year to testify before state legislatures on issues of importance to network marketers. The crowning achievement of the organization came in 1982 when it successfully convinced Congress to amend the Internal Revenue Code to recognize independent contractor status for direct sellers.


The DSA also gives input on pending legislation in areas of consumer protection and ethical trade practices, including anti-pyramid laws, rules on in-home solicitations, business opportunity registration laws, etc.


What's the future mission for the DSA? In a recent past annual report, DSA president Neil Offen noted, "In the days ahead, I see DSA playing a greater role as the industry's vehicle for self-regulation, both here in the United States and in conjunction with our 39 sister DSAs around the world. While I see us continuing to win independent contractor tax fights and affirm how crucial that and our other government relations efforts are to our long-term existence, I also see the need for us to do more to further raise the level of integrity, openness, and ethical behavior of companies, salespeople, and distributors."


On an ongoing basis, the DSA organizes conferences for networkers that train and educate on many aspects of the business. The DSA has a sister organization - the Direct Selling Education Foundation - that supports academic research and conferences on direct selling issues. The DSA is also instrumental in the WFDSA (World Federation of Direct Selling Association), an affiliation of associations from around the world that promotes ethical practices in direct selling.


DSA members are required to agree to a comprehensive ethics code, which commits them to fair business practices for both consumers and distributors. The far-reaching rules deal with such issues as buy-back policies, inventory loading, earnings representations, and deceptive recruiting practices.


In addition, the DSA continually tracks industry information and prints out a wide variety of informational materials, brochures, and pamphlets that are helpful to both companies and their individual distributors.


DSA members are required to agree to a comprehensive ethics code, which commits them to fair business practices for both consumers and distributors.


The sole purpose of the DSA and MLMIA is to support the network marketing business, its companies, and distributors. It pays to get involved.


For more information, contact:

MLMIA’s Website

DSA’s Website

Other Pages of Interest

MLM Law Library

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