The Cold, Hard Truth About ‘Made in the USA’ and ‘Made in America’ Labels
This article was originally published on April 19, 2011. It was revised and republished on August 21, 2012, to include the freshest information. Enjoy!
If your high school history teacher was as cool as mine (rock on, Ms. Singletary!), then you definitely saw old advertisements from “back in the day” with outrageous claims of improved health through cigarette smoking and increased bust size through certain bras (if anything could increase bust size without going under the knife, the A cup would no longer be manufactured).
Advertisement from back when people shopped in stores.
As Americans, we believe this time has passed. After all, there are plenty of organizations such as the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that make sure advertising claims are backed up with scientific fact.
If it’s in a commercial, it must be true!
Except…it’s not. At the very least, claims are being legally redefined to the point where the original terms themselves are misleading. And if we can’t even start out in a cut-and-dry place before the loopholes, exceptions, lobbying, and general government nonsense, things get dicey.
The biggest culprit?
MADE IN AMERICA.
Between our lives as Americans in a post-9/11 world (and I swore to myself never to use that term but there you go) and people who want to be outraged about international human rights issues without actually having to do something other than posting a Facebook status and daring their friends to be brave enough to do the same, customers have been looking for the terms “Made in America” and “Made in USA” more than ever.
When we see “Made in America,” we imagine a Norman-Rockwell dad putting in a hard day’s work down at the Kansas town factory putting together a little wooden horse on a string with the wood from a tree plantation in Ohio (with a tree planted for each one cut down!), glass eyes blown and pressed in a plant in New Jersey and painted by a grandma in Tennessee, and string sent directly from Illinois. Then he’ll hop in his seen-better-days-but-still-running Ford and head home to a turkey dinner with his wife, golden retriever, and 2.5 kids.
Guess what, hippies: “Made in America” doesn’t mean what you think it means.
American beer sucks, but damn it, it's American!
According to the Federal Trade Commission:
For a product to be called Made in USA, or claimed to be of domestic origin without qualifications or limits on the claim, the product must be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S. The term “United States,” as referred to in the Enforcement Policy Statement, includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories and possessions… “All or virtually all” means that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. That is, the product should contain no — or negligible — foreign content.
The problem? I’m no science major, but I’m pretty sure “negligible” is not a standard unit of measure. You can’t have two or three negligibles of something. You can’t be seven negligible away from someone.
So… what does “negligible” mean? Here are the examples from the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Business Center website:
Example: A company produces propane barbecue grills at a plant in Nevada. The product’s major components include the gas valve, burner and aluminum housing, each of which is made in the U.S. The grill’s knobs and tubing are imported from Mexico. An unqualified “Made in USA” claim is not likely to be deceptive because the knobs and tubing make up a negligible portion of the product’s total manufacturing costs and are insignificant parts of the final product.
Example: A table lamp is assembled in the U.S. from American-made brass, an American-made Tiffany-style lampshade, and an imported base. The base accounts for a small percent of the total cost of making the lamp. An unqualified “Made in USA” claim is deceptive for two reasons: The base is not far enough removed in the manufacturing process from the finished product to be of little consequence and it is a significant part of the final product.
Warning: Your Face is Flammable
I don’t know about you, but the knobs and tubing that stand between my beautiful face and looking like a Backdraft extra sound a little more than “negligible” components to me. I’m not saying the USA manufacturing is perfect, but I am guessing it has slightly higher standards than some of the laws China has in place. But thank you, FTC, for saving us from the lamp bases!
Also, it is interesting to note, the FTC does not pre-approve items to be labeled “Made in America.” That basically means that the companies making the claims will only be accountable for their materials and manufacturing processes if they get busted. So it’s kind of like releasing a placebo drug into the market and having no worries unless people start sneezing out their livers. Maybe these labels should really read: “(Sort Of) Made (Partially) in (Or Near) America (and Some Other Places).”
If you’re interested in finding out more about complying with the “Made in America” claim, check out the FTC’s website here.
What do you think of the loopholes in the “Made in America” claim? At what point is a component considered significant? Without strict rules, does the FTC open itself up to persuasion from certain corporations as to what the definition of “negligible” means?
UPDATE (8/21/2012): Check the sky for pigs, ladies and gentlemen, because Democrats and Republicans are actually agreeing about something. After it was made public that American athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics would be wearing clothing made in China at the opening ceremonies, Senators and Representatives both expressed their dislike of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s choice to outfit our fastest and strongest in overseas-manufactured apparel.
And unlike 99% of the time a high level government official complains about something, someone actually decided to do something about it (kind of). Senator Sherrod Brown (R-idiculous First Name) proposed the Wear American Act, a law that would require all government-bought apparel is 100% made in America, which would supersede the current Buy American Act which only requires only 51% of federal purchases to be made in America.
(Nevermind that the Olympic teams are privately funded and therefore this law would not prevent this from happening again, but let’s make sure we don’t dampen the sensationalism, shall we?)
What do you think of the new proposal? Is Brown taking advantage of the buzz around this revelation to garner some political points by stretching the link to the unemployment rate in the textile industry? Will this actually be a great boost for the economy with increased demand from government agencies for American-made products? Sound off in the comments below!
Until next time, keep expanding your brand!