New Balance, the only maker of running shoes and tennis shoes that actually still makes them in America, says it is abiding by the "made in USA" standard, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that wrote the standard, isn't so sure.
The FTC studied the "made in USA" issue exhaustively in the mid-1990s, and decided that a product must be "all or virtually all" made in the U.S., with "no - or negligible - foreign content."
The decision for the "all or virtually all" standard was made after the FTC collected over 1,000 comments legislators, trade associations, attorneys general, labor, and consumer groups including my "How Americans Can Buy American" organization.
New Balance doesn't pull any punches with it's advertising when it claims the company's products are "made in USA." New Balance claims it uses criteria based on a domestic value of 70 percent, and came up with that percentage based on a mid-1990's survey that said 67 percent of participants believed a claim of "Made in USA" would be acceptable if at least 70 percent of a given product was made in the U.S.
New Balance also openly clarifies what it believes to be the definition of what a "made in USA" product really means to its customers. The cloudy picture isn't made any clearer by the fact that specific "Made in USA" claims are decided on a case by case basis by the FTC.
Even though the FTC accused New Balance back in 1994 of misleading advertising because of the amount of its product that was made outside of the United States, New Balance disputed the accusation, saying the "all or virtually all" standard was no longer realistic in a world where an increasing number of American manufacturers were using more foreign content.
The ability to claim its products are "made in USA" plays an important role in New Balance's marketing strategy, and we all know how important it is to consumers like you and I. An increasing number of companies are using bigger and brighter stickers or logos on their products, proudly proclaiming that they are "made in USA" and making sure shoppers notice.
So what can patriotic consumers do while the Federal Trade Commission is locking horns with a company like New Balance in a protracted battle that to this day is still unresolved? Let me be clear by saying the thing not to do is boycott New Balance products. By refusing to buy New Balance shoes and instead put consumer dollars into the pockets of their competitors would be a bad idea since no other competitor makes its tennis shoes or running shoes in the United States. SAS Shoes of San Antonia, Texas does make casual walking shoes in the United States that New Balance also makes, but the worthy competition stops there.
On a positive note, it was encouraging to learn of the newly-formed Buy American Caucus in the United States Congress on April 15. Created by co-chairs Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-CT), the caucus will seek to strengthen federal laws that make buying American a priority, such as the 75 year-old Buy American Act.
Rep. Christopher Murphy believes (and rightly so) that enough hasn't been done to enforce the Buy American Act as well as update it to deal with the current competition American producers face from predatory foreign producers, of which there is never a shortage.
Rep. Walter B. Jones believes "America cannot retain its status as a superpower if it is dependent on countries like communist China for the bulk of goods we consume."
The best thing to do right now is call your congressman as soon as possible and ask them to consider joining the Buy American Caucus. Tell them about the caucus co-chairs and encourage your representative to contact them for more information about what the caucus stands for. You might also want to let them know that the "Made in USA" standard should not be watered down and that the label should mean exactly what it says, regardless of global economic trends.
If we can get some congressional action on strengthening and updating the Buy American Act and other laws designed to keep American tax dollars within our borders instead of spending them on foreign products, we can clarify what it means to "Buy American" and define "Made in USA" once and for all.
That would go a long way to eliminating "unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices," which is the stated purpose of the Federal Trade Commission. So call your congressman today, and get them on board. Congress already knows the jobs issue is the next big thing on the national agenda. The Buy American Caucus is a great way to give it the right kind of attention it deserves.
Roger Simmermaker is the author of How Americans Can Buy American: The Power of Consumer Patriotism. He also writes "Buy American Mention of the Week" articles for his website www.howtobuyamerican.com and is a member of the Machinists Union and National Writers Union. Roger has been a frequent guest on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, has been quoted in the USA Today, Wall Street Journal and US News & World Report among many other publications, and is now a weekly contributor to WorldNetDaily.