Byline: Jennifer Owens

WASHINGTON — U.S. Customs announced on Monday that it will retain its rule requiring fabric or film labels bearing country of origin information to be permanently affixed to the neck area of most imported apparel.
In retaining its requirement, Customs restated that most imported apparel must be marked with a label on the inside center of the neck midway between the shoulder seams. Button, string, paper and other hangtags will not be acceptable.
Customs will maintain its exception, however, for reversible garments. It will, as in the past, allow women’s reversible jackets to be marked with a cardboard hangtag attached to the neck area by a plastic anchor. The agency has also allowed women’s reversible silk tank tops to be marked with a cloth label sewn into a lower side seam with a separate hangtag at the neck.
In November 1995, the agency proposed evaluating country of origin labels on a case-by-case basis to determine if each was “legible, indelible and permanent to a degree sufficient enough to remain on the shirt until it reaches the ultimate purchaser.”
The proposal arose from a June 1994 request to allow the manufacturer of men’s football shirts to use country of origin hangtags to meet Custom’s neck-area requirement. The garments already bore country of origin, size and care instruction information on embroidered woven textile labels 2 by 4 1/2 inches, called “jock tags,” which were sewn onto the shirts’ exterior right-hand side, approximately 2 inches above the bottom hem and 1 inch from the side seam.
Customs proposed the change and opened the case-by-case approach to public comment. The agency received seven responses supporting the change and 10 opposing it.
Supporters called hangtags more conspicuous than sewn-in labels and said that compliance costs would decrease if sewn-in labels were not required. Supporters noted that Federal Trade Commission rules do not require a sewn-in label. Supporters also said that transshippers can simply sew in false labels and said the requirement had not cut down on unlawful activity.
Opponents argued, however, that allowing any other method of marking apparel would just make transshipping easier.
“The easiest method of discovering transshipments is claimed to either be an incorrect…a missing…or a damaged country of origin label,” Customs said.
Opponents also claimed that hangtags are often lost either during shipping or when garments are tried on or at the point of sale by “salespeople who see little or no need for them and may even see them as a deterrent to a sale.”
Another opponent stated “that consumers know and have expected for 40 years that the care label shows the country of origin.”
In the end, it was the final argument that held the most sway for Customs: “Because of the longstanding expectations by importers and ultimate purchasers that the country-of-origin marking will be found at the center of the neckline on a sewn-in label, the requirements…should remain in effect.”

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