'Made in Hawaii' should be protected


POSTED: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The “;Made in Hawaii”; label may be one of the most powerful geographic draws among the world's commercial wares, but it also may be the most abused. Gov. Linda Lingle has signed into law a measure creating a working group to report to the Legislature's next session to improve enforcement of the standard for using the label. Lawmakers should be prepared to take steps in its protection.

Freelance writer Pam Mandel of Seattle tells in the travel blog World Hum of her search for a Hawaiian-made ukulele on her last trip to the islands. She settled for one with parts made in Indonesia and assembled in Hawaii, as the salesman candidly confessed. “;Is it made in Hawaii?”; Mandel asks herself. “;Sort of.”;

Hawaii law requires that at least 51 percent of the wholesale value of a product originating elsewhere and billed as “;Made in Hawaii”; be added in Hawaii through manufacturing, refrigeration, assembly, packaging or, essentially, whatever. The bill before the Legislature initially proposed raising the Hawaii-made contribution to at least 65 percent.

That proposal was dropped because the major problem has been enforcing what already is on the books, similar to a federal law defining “;Made in America.”; The state Department of Agriculture has had only a dozen inspectors in past years who examine food labels and commercial devices ranging from gas pumps to taxi meters. During the recession, the state is in no condition to increase their workload.

The Hawaii Food Industry Association requires vendors participating in the annual three-day Made in Hawaii Festival in August to provide documentation of their products' compliance with Hawaii law. The association actually has closed down vendors that have been discovered to be in violation.

Of course, that level of monitoring is nonexistent in the ordinary marketplace, where it would be onerous and impractical. However, some degree of screening of Hawaii-labeled items is needed, ideally with the cooperation and assistance of the industry.

The working group, headed by the state director of agriculture, will include artisan guilds and collectives such as Creations of Hawaii and the Made in Hawaii Festival. Honest vendors of Hawaiian products should be more than willing to be part of such an effort. And they should keep consumers' concerns in mind.

“;I'm not sure the 'Made in Hawaii' label is enough,”; writes blogger Mandell. “;I wonder about other things — what percentage of the profits stay in the islands? Is the business locally owned or run? Where do the source materials come from? It's paralyzing.

“;Sure, I bought a uke; it was sort of Hawaiian-made. But all that thinking about Hawaiian 'stuff' meant that the uke was the only thing I bought.”;