By June 29, 2015
While there is no official review process required for labeling a product as “Made in the U.S.A.,” a company can get into legal trouble for misusing that label, as doing so may constitute false advertising. A new report from an advertising watchdog group claims that Walmart’s website has more than 100 examples of products incorrectly marketed as made in America.
According to a letter [PDF] recently sent by the group Truth In Advertising to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, “Walmart’s website is mired in USA labeling errors.”
Among the items singled out in the letter are Walmart’s Equate store-brand makeup sponges in the image at the top of this story. TINA says these were given the Made in the U.S.A. label on Walmart.com even though the product’s own packaging clearly states that they were “Made in China.”
Another Equate-brand product called out by TINA are these teeth-whitening strips that the company simultaneously lists as made in America while declaring in the product details that they are imported form outside the country:
In response to the TINA letter, Walmart told the group that manufacturing for both of these products was recently moved to the U.S. but that some stores may still contain versions made overseas and not all the information on the website is correct. Regardless, both items no longer carry the patriotic marketing message.
It wasn’t just store-brand items that got the false “Made in U.S.A.” labels, according to the report. TINA’s letter gives the example of an Almay eyeliner that states the product is made and assembled here in the U.S., even though the packaging declares that it is “Made in Germany.” Walmart says that the country of origin information comes from the supplier.
“False made in USA labeling on Walmart’s website has misled consumers looking to purchase American-made products,’’ said TINA.org Executive Director Bonnie Patten. “The largest retailer in the world should have made sure its American-made claims were accurate before affixing made in USA labels on the products. Until Walmart cleans up this mess, consumers cannot rely on Walmart with regard to where a product is really made when shopping on the site.”
UPDATE: When reached for comment, a rep for Walmart provided the following statement to Consumerist —
“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.”
A more detailed report [PDF] commissioned by TINA looked at the actual “Made in the U.S.A.” labeling on Walmart.com and found a number of issues.
This report noted that Walmart does little to differentiate its “Made in the U.S.A.” label from its “Assembled in the U.S.A.” label, even though the two labels have very different standards in the eyes of the Federal Trade Commission.
“The legibility of the text at the top of the label, which can be either ‘Made in the’ or ‘Assembled in the’, is marginal even for people with excellent or corrected vision, due both to the text’s small size and the low contrast of light blue text on a white background,” writes the report’s author, Dr. Jeff Johnson, who notes that the problem is exacerbated for farsighted people or those looking at the site on a small-format screen. “If such people have not seen it earlier in larger format (e.g., on a product page), they would be unable to determine what it says. Even consumers who have seen that text already in larger format would, in search results, have trouble distinguishing ‘Made in the USA’ from ‘Assembled in the USA’.”