WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission said it has closed an investigation into aspects of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Made in USA campaign after the retailer took steps to take down logos and other information on its Web site.
The FTC said it closed the inquiry into “discrepancies or outdated information regarding county-of-origin claims” on the retail giant’s site, according to a letter it sent to Wal-Mart’s associate general counsel that was made public.
The FTC said it also reviewed concerns about the “clarity and conspicuousness of disclosures made by Wal-Mart on “Made in USA” logos related to the company’s “Investing in American Jobs Program.”
According to the FTC, Wal-Mart has taken several steps “to prevent consumer deception,” including removing Made in USA logos from all product listings; removing country-of-origin information from all product specifications, except where required by law; removing U.S. origin claims from product descriptions or titles, and implementing procedures to flag and remove new U.S. origin claims made in advertising submitted by suppliers.
“We are pleased with the FTC’s decision and appreciate its thorough review of our program,” the company said. “We’re committed to reviewing and strengthening our processes to help ensure customers have a great experience on our Web site and can find the products and information they are looking for.”
Wal-Mart unveiled its commitment to buy products made in America in January 2013, saying it would invest $250 billion over 10 years on Made in USA goods that support jobs here. The program came under scrutiny this July when Truth in Advertising, an organization monitoring claims made in advertising, investigated Wal-Mart’s Web site and said it found more than 100 instances of false and deceptive Made in USA representations on the site.
“The investigation revealed products labeled ‘Made in the U.S.,’ although packaging indicated they were made in China,” the organization said.
Wal-Mart said at the time that it believed any errors on its Web site were limited to a small percentage of items and that it believed in the “overall integrity” of its site. The retailer told Truth in Advertising that it had a self-imposed deadline of July 9 to improve the errors.
The FTC opened an inquiry into the matter, following a complaint filed by Truth in Advertising in July.
In addition to steps Wal-Mart took related to its Web site, the retailer also redesigned logos on some of its private-label products related to its “Investing in American Jobs program,” according to Julia Solomon Ensor, a staff attorney with the FTC, who wrote the letter to Wal-Mart’s associate general counsel, Annemarie C. O’Shea.
The redesigned logos, which appear on private-label product packaging, now include larger disclosures pertaining to the percentage of U.S. content contained in the product, as well as a new qualification that the U.S.-origin claims are self-certified by the supplier factory, Solomon Ensor said in an interview.
“There was a percentage on the origin in the logos before, but the new logos make more clear and conspicuous” disclosures, she said.
While the FTC has decided not to pursue the inquiry further, it stated that the action was not a determination on whether Wal-Mart violated a section of its statute and reserved the right to take further action if warranted.
“In general, my impression was this is an example of a very large company that needed to beef up its systems and was looking at discrepancies and outdated information rather than fraud,” Solomon Ensor said. “This is not uncommon. We have certainly seen examples before where other large companies have had outdated information in their marketing materials, or made other mistakes, or were simply unaware of the FTC’s enforcement policy on U.S. origin claims. In the past several years, we have issued more than 50 closing letters.”