Walmart’s ‘Made in the USA’ claims under fire again

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Walmart is once again playing fast and loose with the rules when it comes to labeling goods “Made in the USA,” according to an industry watchdog.

The world’s biggest retailer — which five years ago managed to dodge a federal inquiry over its labeling practices by promising to change them — is now claiming on its website that goods that it sells like vacuum cleaners, towels and plastic storage bins are made in America when they aren’t, according to Truth In Advertising.

In a Tuesday complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group noted that Walmart claimed in a Facebook ad last fall that nearly two-thirds of the millions of products it sells are made in America. Meanwhile, however, only 2,000 items are listed under its site’s “Made in USA” filter, according to the group, also known as TINA.org.

“The truth is consumers can’t be certain any of these products meet the FTC’s definition of ‘made’ in the USA … because of how Walmart is attempting to redefine the legal standard,” TINA.org said.

Specifically, Walmart has been using confusing language in disclaimers that obscure their origins. A set of Better Homes & Gardens bath towels is advertised as being made “in the USA with US and imported yarn.” Another item, Burt’s Bees Coconut Foot Creme, states that the components are “USA or imported.”

Under the FTC’s Made in USA standard, only products that are “all or virtually all” made in the United States can be marketed as “made” in the USA. And when making qualified claims like “Made in the USA with domestic and imported parts,” the FTC requires that the qualifying language be clear and conspicuous, TINA.org noted.

On Walmart’s site, however, three Hoover vacuum cleaners are each shown with a prominent “Made in the USA” label on its product page — with hard-to-read fine print at the bottom of the label adds, “with globally sourced components.” According to a class-action suit filed against Hoover this month, the company gets “most” of its parts from China.

Hoover, which is owned by Hong Kong-based Techtronic Industries, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In all, the watchdog group said Tuesday it found more than 40 products that are misrepresented on Walmart.com, which “contain imported parts…or that confusingly state the origin of the product as “USA or imported,” according to the complaint.

It is the third such complaint TINA.org has lodged against Walmart. In 2015, the FTC opened an inquiry into the matter after TINA.org filed its first complaint. The FTC closed the probe after Walmart promised that it had taken “several steps to prevent consumer deception,” according to a letter the agency head wrote to TINA.org at the time.

“Walmart’s history of deceptive Made in USA marketing claims on its website now spans more than five years and is exacerbated by consumers’ current need/desire to shop online during the global pandemic,” TINA.org writes in its complaint.

On Wednesday, Walmart in a statement sidestepped allegations about its “Made in the USA” claims.

“Through Walmart’s Investing in American Jobs initiative, we’ve committed $250 billion over 10 years toward the purchase of products made, sourced, grown or assembled here in the US. We’ve seen some wonderful success stories based on our pledge and hope to contribute to further expansion of US manufacturing and job growth.”

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