Much ado about nothing? Industry observers skeptical of Walmart’s “Made in USA” push

Remember Walmart’s “Buy American” campaign back in the 80’s? In 1992, a shocking Dateline NBC report on the campaign caused a PR disaster for the company. The show reported that Walmart had in fact sharply increased foreign imports during the campaign, that Walmart suppliers in Asia were using child labor, and that company stores had misleadingly labeled foreign-made garments as Made in America.

In January, Walmart U.S. President (and candidate to replace Mike Duke as CEO) Bill Simon announced a “Buy American” redux. Simon said the company is making a “bold commitment” to increase the amount of goods the company sources from the United States by $50 billion over the next 10 years. Then, at Walmart’s “U.S. Manufacturing Summit” late last month, Simon reiterated the company’s purchasing goal and suppliers announced that they would together spend $70 million on factory growth and create 1,000 jobs in the U.S.

Unfortunately for Walmart, industry observers seem unconvinced that this is a meaningful effort on the company’s part (though, to be fair, it’s perfectly understandable given Walmart’s history with “Buy American” plans):

  • Back in January, TIME’s Christopher Matthews concluded that, by making a splashy announcement about increasing domestic purchasing, “Walmart is merely dressing up what it already planned to do.” That is, the $50 billion figure quoted by the company more than accounts for what Walmart is currently on track to purchase if it continues to grow at the same rate. It doesn’t necessarily represent “any special effort” for Walmart, but the company can spin it as a successful patriotic mission.
  • Under the headline “Walmart’s ‘Buy American’ Push: Patriotism or Red, White, and Blue-Washing?,” Bruce Watson at DailyFinance wonders: “[Q]uestions are surfacing about whether the new initiatives are good deeds – or just good marketing.”
  • Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St. is unimpressed, writing that Walmart’s plan is “bogus”: “A much better case can be made that Walmart’s actions have not been good for U.S. employment, and as a matter for fact have undermined it…The company’s 10-year plan to ‘infuse more than $70 million into factory growth and create more than 1,000 domestic jobs’ is an insult to anyone who might suppose that Walmart has an interest in helping American manufacturing.”
  • Stacy Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance noted: “Very little of this small increase in spending on American-made goods will actually result in new U.S. production and jobs. Most of the projected increase will simply be a byproduct of Walmart’s continued takeover of the grocery industry. Most grocery products sold in the U.S. are produced here.”

What does it say about Walmart’s current state of affairs that there has been such a massive (and not particularly successful) public relations push around what essentially amounts to window-dressing?

What do you think?