What does "Made in USA" label really mean?

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

In the world of retail, the American flag and what it stands for is about more than patriotism. A recent study shows more than 80 percent of American consumers are willing to pay more for products that are made in the USA. But can you believe those labels?

Take Almay's popular "Simply American" ad campaign. Country music star Carrie Underwood narrates the commercial, while her "American Girl" hit song plays in the background of images of flags and fields.

Bonnie Patten, the executive director of the non-profit group Truth in Advertising, says there's only one problem.

"The vast majority of their products would not meet the legal definition for a "Made in the U.S." product," she explained. The group challenged Almay's ad, filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Just last week, Almay changed the slogan from "Simply American" to "The American Look."

"There are actually quite a few laws that deal with 'Made in America' products," said Patten.

By law, for a company to label an item "Made in America," the product should be assembled in the U.S. and have at least 50 percent of its parts made in the U.S.

These are called "unqualified" labels or claims. A "qualified" claim could say "Made in America with parts from China," or some other country. "Made in the USA" labels can be stated or implied. TINA contends that Almay's "Simply American" campaign was an implied unqualified claim, but one that is regulated by the FTC nonetheless.

Revlon is the parent company of Almay. Revlon spokesperson Zoe Schepps emailed us this statement:   

"Our new campaign builds on the re-branding that we launched in January. ‘Almay, the American Look' conveys the essence of our brand.  Almay celebrates the spirit of American beauty: the all-American beauty look is genuine, fresh and glowing with confidence.

Our ad campaign for Almay adheres to the FTC's guidelines."

Truth in Advertising also says WalMart mislabeled more than 100 items on its website. They point to everything from beauty make-up wedges that are labeled "Made in the USA" to a pet hammock that says "Assembled in the USA;" but when you look at the back of the bag or package of both products, they clearly read "Made in China."

When Channel 2 reached out to WalMart, a spokesperson named Kory Lundberg emailed the following statement:

"To be labeled as Made in the U.S. on our website, suppliers must provide a signed certification that their products meet the FTC and California requirements for a Made in the U.S. product.

Item file information (different than the insignia), which includes information like color, model number, dimensions and country of origin are supplied by our vendors. Previously the item file information was updated separately than the Made in the U.S. designation - going forward those two pieces of information will be updated in a single step, helping eliminate the lag time that can cause confusion.

We are very excited about the progress we are making on our 10 year, $250 billion commitment to buy products that support American jobs.  Just over two years in, we are on target to meet our goal and are seeing some great results. For example, in Chicago, Ferrara Candy has re-shored some of its production from Mexico, creating more than 100 jobs in the community and Korona Candles, which re-shored tea light production from Poland, is creating more than 150 jobs in the Dublin, Virginia area.

We are continually working to improve our website listings and information. We are undertaking a more extensive quality assurance review to help eliminate these coding errors. Based on our initial internal review, we believe these errors are limited to a small percentage of items and we are confident in the overall integrity of the information on our website.

Customers have told us information like Made in the U.S. and products that support Women's Economic Empowerment are important to them. We added badges to products on our site to help customers find what they were looking for. Unfortunately, some internet search engines won't return an item with a badge in search results. To make it easier for customers to search for Walmart.com products, we have removed all of our badges. We are working on a way to help our customers easily identify these products on our site while also having them show up in organic search results."

"Companies know that consumers are willing to buy Made in the US products and even spend more money on them... so they're taking advantage of people's good will in a lot of ways," said Patten.

If you want to know if a product is truly made in the USA, Patten says you need to look past the packaging and see the label imprinted or affixed to the actual product. Those stamps are usually accurate.

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