Walmart is bringing back its “Made in America” campaign, as outlined in a story in this week’s Time Magazine. The chain had promoted American-made products back in the 1970’s when founder Sam Walton was still in charge – in fact the title of his autobiography is “Made in America”. However, this goal, in line with a general pro-American campaign at the time, largely in reaction against what was perceived as the anti-patriotic anti-war movement, ran up against the an even more important goal: super low prices, as a way to attract customers and make money. More and more products sold in Walmart stores were coming from abroad, as they could be produced much more cheaply outside the U.S. It is estimated that by 2004, 70% of the products sold at Walmart came from China. The “Made in America” campaign resulted in a backlash when “NBC Dateline” aired an exposé in the early 1990’s showing that Walmart associates put “Made in America” signs over products made in overseas sweatshops.
Now Walmart is bringing back the campaign, but not out of a patriotic duty to promote American-made products and create more jobs in the U.S. The shift is in line with other companies, such as Apple, which are finding that it’s starting to make economic sense to make or buy goods in the U.S. Shipping charges have made imports more expensive, as have higher wages being paid in China and other manufacturing centers. The campaign does not necessarily mean a windfall for American manufacturers or other producers. Walmart is only interested in large scale contracts and is famous for driving down prices to the point that it’s hard for suppliers to make a profit. A recent story on NPR discusses the difficulty small farmers have had in the American Midwest selling to Walmart.