Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s high-profile commitment to buy products made in the U.S. has garnered headlines since the world’s largest retailer revealed in January 2013 that it would invest $250 billion over 10 years on additional Made in the USA goods that support American jobs.
Truth in Advertising, an organization that monitors the veracity of ad claims, investigated the retail giant’s Web site and said Tuesday that it found more than 100 instances of false and deceptive Made in the USA representations. “The investigation revealed products labeled ‘Made in the U.S.,’ although packaging indicated they were made in China,” the organization said.
“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 Web site,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman. “We are continually working to improve our Web site listings and information. We are undertaking a more extensive quality assurance review to help eliminate these coding errors.”
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Bonnie Patten, Truth in Advertising’s executive director, said, referring to Wal-Mart’s characterization of “a small percentage of items.”
“Wal-Mart had over 20,000 items that they were categorizing as qualified or unqualified Made in the U.S. If you take 1 percent of that, that’s thousands of errors,” Patten said. “It’s great that Wal-Mart wants to buy Made in the U.S. products, but this isn’t some charity program they’re running. This is economically advantageous for them. Studies show Americans want to buy Made in the U.S. products and are willing to pay more for them. When Wal-Mart slaps that label on a product, it boosts the sales. It’s disingenuous for them to say this is all coding errors.”
The Wal-Mart spokesman said the company is “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.”
Wal-Mart told Truth In Advertising it has a self-imposed deadline of July 9 to improve the errors on its Web site. “We’ll audit the site around that time and see if we have to go to the Federal Trade Commission or not,” Patten said. “If they’re going to make a claim about a product, they’re required to do some due diligence to make sure it’s true. Their site is a mess.”
Wal-Mart has found itself in the situation of having to defend where its products are made before. In a 1992 NBC report, “Where are Wal-Mart’s Made in the USA Clothes Really Made,” investigative reporter Brian Ross found that clothes for Wal-Mart were not made in the U.S. as the company claimed, but in Bangladesh by children as young as 10. At the time, Wal-Mart issued an apology for false advertising.
Wal-Mart said it will pull badges for products touting Women’s Economic Empowerment and Sustainability Leaders from its site. “Customers have told us information like Made in the U.S. and products that support Women’s Economic Empowerment are important to them,” the spokesman said. “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 are removing 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.”
In other news, the initiative Making Change at Wal-Mart, backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is launching a TV campaign that will air in 10 cities leading up to July 4, and in Washington, D.C., on Sunday morning news programs. The campaign, which has print and social media components, highlights a report published June 17 by Americans for Tax Fairness, which alleges that Wal-Mart uses offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes. According to the report, which was also backed by the UFCWU, 90 percent of Wal-Mart’s overseas assets are owned by subsidiaries in Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
“This is the same union-supported group that regularly issues similar, flawed reports on Wal-Mart to promote their agenda rather than the facts,” Wal-Mart responded when the report was published. “This latest report includes incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers.”