An activist group has written a letter [opens in PDF] to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) uses false and deceptive claims that some products it sells are "Made in the USA."
This is not the first time that TruthInAdvertising.org (TINA.org) has targeted the retailer with this charge. The dispute between the two parties began in June 2015 when TINA.org sent a letter to the retailer letting it know that it had investigated claims that certain products sold on its website were inaccurately labeled "made in the USA."
Two days after that letter was delivered Wal-Mart sent a letter [opens in PDF] to the organization declaring that the company would take steps to fix any misuses of the claim. It also said the retailer would be "undertaking a more extensive quality assurance review to eliminate these kinds of coding errors in the future." In addition, Wal-Mart said the issue was "limited to a small number of items" while expressing that it was confident of the overall integrity of its website.
About three weeks later, in July 2015, TINA.org decided the retailer was not making changes fast enough and filed its first complaint letter with the FTC. The federal agency investigated the complaint and notified both groups in October 2015 "that it will not be pursuing further action due to Wal-Mart's assurance that it has removed all U.S.-origin representations from its website," TINA.org posted on its website.
TINA.org disagreed with that and reviewed the company's website later in October 2015 then sent another letter to the FTC in November of that year. Now, on June 28, 2016, the activist group has sent the FTC another letter that claims Wal-Mart still falsely uses the "Made in the USA" claim on over 100 items on its website.
How does Wal-Mart respond?
The company, which acknowledged "mistakes" in response to earlier TINA.org claims, does not exactly refute the current charges, but it does downplay their importance. Wal-Mart's response also notes the company's "Open Call," a sort of pitch session where small American companies can get in front of the massive retailer.
"Today we were able to give hundreds of businesses with U.S.-made products an opportunity to land their items on Walmart.com," the company wrote in a statement sent to The Motley Fool. "It's just another way we can give our customers great products while also supporting our commitment to purchase an additional $250 billion in products that support American jobs."
The statement continued without the company admitting any fault without outright claiming that it was entirely in the right.
"These claims are not new, and as we've said all along, we will continue to work with our suppliers to help ensure we are giving our customers the transparency and authenticity they are looking for," the company wrote.
What does "Made in the USA" Mean?
Wal-Mart is not saying that it has never inadvertently misused the "Made in the USA" claim nor is it saying that it's not possible that products on its website are misusing it now. TINA.org wants the FTC to investigate and the agency should, since it has a very clear definition for what made in the USA means:
"Made in USA" means that "all or virtually all" the product has been made in America. That is, all significant parts, processing and labor that go into the product must be of U.S. origin.