Committing to buy American-made products is a personal choice that creates a positive ripple effect: it helps boost the economy, keep jobs on our shores, and revive the U.S. manufacturing industry. Not only that, but “Made in the USA” is synonymous with quality and safety – consumers know they get a better product when they buy American.
So, what does it mean when you see a “Made in the USA” seal? Is it really 100% pure American made? Well, that depends and it’s getting more complicated as economies worldwide overlap and blend.
To help you identify if what you’re buying is truly born and bred in America, and explain what the “Made in the USA” label means, here are some highlights of the Federal Trade Commission’s very detailed rules on the subject:
Mandatory Product Labeling
Domestically made automobiles, textiles, wool, and fur products are required by law to have a “Made in the USA” label. Products that fall outside these categories aren’t required to disclose their origin, but most companies will state when they are American made because of the positive association.
“All or Virtually All”
Marketers and manufacturers that promote their products as “Made in the USA” must prove that all or virtually all of those products – significant parts, assembly, processing, and labor – are of U.S. origin.
The FTC uses a one-step removed rule to assess if goods using parts from foreign countries can make the “unqualified claim” that they are American. In this case, “unqualified” is defined as having no caveats and being the flat-out truth. Paraphrasing the examples given in the FTC guidelines:
- A grill is assembled in Nevada and its major components (gas valve, burner, and hosing) are all made in the U.S. The grill’s knobs and tubing are made in Mexico, but these parts are considered negligible or insignificant, so the grill can legitimately carry the unqualified “Made in the USA” seal.
- A table lamp is assembled in the U.S. and has an American-made lampshade, but an imported base. Because the base is a significant part, the lamp cannot use the “Made in the USA” label unless it qualifies it with something like “Made in the USA with Imported Parts.”
Companies making efforts to keep elements of their production and labor in the U.S. can use other types of labels or make claims that qualify their products. Like in the previous example with the lamp, “Made in the USA from Imported Parts” is a legal, qualified claim. Another example is on Apple iPhone packaging, you’ll see the qualified claim of “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China.”
The FTC does not pre-approve or proactively check on companies using the “Made in the USA” label, but it does investigate complaints. If the FTC finds a company’s claim to be misleading – whether it’s explicit or implicit – the company can be fined (up to $16,000 per product sold) and potentially face a lawsuit.
As complex as the FTC regulations are, they protect the small businesses like All American Clothing that are putting effort (and often higher costs) into sourcing and manufacturing products domestically. The “Made in the USA” seal is a very important symbol to help consumers identify high-quality, American-made products and know where their dollars are going.