Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, launched a program in 1985 called “Bring It Back Home to the U.S.A.” He said the program was in response to the “soaring U.S. trade deficit.” He admitted that Wal-Mart was a huge importer of foreign goods, and that “too many” times his company was forced to buy foreign because U.S. goods “simply aren’t competitive.” He set the bar this way: “We will only buy American if those goods can be produced efficiently enough to offer good value.” Walton said his “primary goal at work” became working with U.S. manufacturers to “save some American manufacturing jobs.” Walton admitted that Wal-Mart had “fallen into a pattern of knee-jerk import buying without really examining possible alternatives.” More than two decades later, the current CEO of Wal-Mart made it clear to a gathering at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton Business College, that his company is still a knee-jerk importer. “Right now,” Scott told the Associated Press, “the way it works, our model is `We sell for less.’ If we put products out there and we have to sell them for more because our competitors are sourcing more efficiently and more effectively for the same quality of product, our model doesn’t work. We cannot be at a price disadvantage. Lest anybody forget, 20% of Wal-Mart’s customers don’t have a checking account and they do not have the economic luxury of making a broader social statement.” Scott had been asked if Wal-Mart would source its products closer to home in order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions caused by global sea and land transportation networks. Scott said Wal-Mart will pay 5% to 10% more for an American product, but that many goods will never be made again in the United States. This “5% pledge” is identical to Sam Walton’s statement 25 years ago, “If we can get within 5% of the same price and quality, we take a smaller markup and go with the American product.” Scott labled the movement to protect American manufacturing “economic nationalism,” and added, “Those products where there’s no more value added by expertise in the work force, those products are going to move around the world, and they have for years.” But the flaw in Walton’s and Scott’s rhetoric is that Wal-Mart, by chasing the lowest prices around the globe, has not brought back “the same quality of product.” They have lowered quality — for a price. The fact is, Wal-Mart, more than any other importer, has brought to U.S. shores the largest volume of inferior and unsafe products from Third World sweatshops. After more than a year of headlines about tainted food and tainted toys, consumers are fighting back. The group Consumer’s Union launched this week a national email campaign targeting Congress on the subject of improving the quality of products on American retail shelves. “The holiday shopping season will begin in just a few weeks,” Consumer’s Union writes, “yet we still have a long way to go before we can trust the safety of the products on our store shelves. Congress has taken some first steps — investigational hearings and initial bill proposals — but it won’t be easy to get real protections through Congress quickly… and it’s time to raise the volume. Consumer’s Union is urging the public to remind Congress that “hazardous imports continue to flood the American marketplace. More than 12 million children’s toys have been recalled this year, alone!” The Consumer’s Union is calling for the users of these products — the American consumer — to let Congress know that tougher product safety and inspection standards are needed, and more funding for federal enforcement agencies. The companies who bring these products to our communities, should be responsible for their quality and safety, not just their cost.
Consumer’s Union is urging the public to send the following message to members of Congress: “The recent flood of unsafe Chinese imports into the U.S. — contaminated pet food, toxic toothpaste, lead-laden toys, hazardous tires, contaminated seafood, and unsafe electrical items — clearly shows that we are not stopping unsafe products at our borders. It’s time to pass legislation to hold manufacturers, importers and retailers to a higher standard and effectively enforce that standard. Companies don’t always know if products manufactured overseas are safe — unless they inspect them first. Companies must hire independent, government certified inspectors to ensure that imports meet U.S. safety standards. Products should be tested in the foreign factories and at our ports — before they wind up on U.S, shelves. And retailers must be required to remove all recalled products from shelves promptly, post prominent recall notices, and spot check products for safety. The retailer is the last stop before a product goes in my cart and must play a role in assuring my family’s safety. The U.S. limited the lead in paint in 1978 and in jewelry in 2005 — yet millions of lead-painted toys have been recalled in just the past three months. Last year, a child died after swallowing a small lead trinket. Although we know that lead is very toxic, the U.S. does not currently ban lead in all toys. How many more such items may still be sitting in stores around the country with nothing to warn a parent of the danger? Today’s testing and inspection programs for products aren’t working. We need higher standards and more enforcement to ensure the safety of our products. If importers, distributors, and retailers were held accountable for product safety, the nature of the way they do business would change dramatically. But we won’t be able to enforce higher standards with the weakened federal infrastructure we have today. Food recalls today are “voluntary” so the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to negotiate its recall requests with companies, wasting time while people like me continue to buy up the tainted food. We need to be sure that the government can demand the quick removal of unsafe products from the shelves. U.S. imports from foreign countries nearly doubled since 2000, while the funding for food and product inspection agencies went down or stayed the same. Compared to when it opened its doors in 1973, today’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is half its original size in both staff and resources. Today’s FDA manages to inspect only one percent of all food imports! With so little enforcement, companies that want to risk importing shoddy, unsafe products know they may well get away with it. We can do better. Please help restore my confidence in the safety of the items in my cart.” For more background, go to notinmycart.org. As of today more than 143,000 messages have been sent to Congress.