Senate Bill 263: Regulating “Hawaii Made” Products

By: J. S.

A bill introduced in the 2021 Hawaii Legislature would reorganize what state government agencies manage oversight on the Made-in-Hawaii program and trademark. The proposed bill transfers oversight of the Made-in-Hawaii program as it relates to non-agricultural manufactured products to the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) from the Department of Agriculture (DOA) according to the State Committee on Means and Ways. Senate Bill 263 would also provide $150,000 of Cares Act money towards the efforts to promote “Hawaii Made” items as DBEDT sees fit.

The law would prohibit items, souvenirs, products or other merchandise from being kept, displayed, advertised or solicited with wording “Hawaii Made” unless 51% of the product has been produced in Hawaii. These manufactured products would not be allowed to be represented as having origins from anywhere within the state or advertised with the wording “Hawaii Made” if the product has less than that percentage.

Another aspect of the program would focus on promoting “Hawaii Made” manufactured products, coordinating manufacturing of such products, and coordinating and promoting distribution channels for trademarked goods using Cares Act funding.

There is a demand among visitors for items produced locally. It is currently very easy to find labeling on products stating they are made within the state. Buyers of products in general do well to be cautious and use common sense to determine if this advertising is legitimate. The program would move to regulate not only agricultural goods as in the past, but also begin to include manufactured final products.

When a term is trademarked, it helps to protect the wording that shows the source of goods. In testimony presented by the Department of Agriculture, the concern was raised that the bill would unduly overlap certain trademark programs and unnecessarily alter the accounting formula by which businesses determine what percentage of their products are produced locally. According to the department’s testimony on the bill, The Department oversees the License Agreements and owns the Trademarks “Made in Hawaii with Aloha” and “Grown in Hawaii with Aloha”. A company can create a logo or use the wording “Made in Hawaii” or “Produced in Hawaii” or “Processed in Hawaii” to identify their product, provided it meets the conditions set forth in the [current] statute. Doing so does not require the oversight from or a License Agreement with the Department. The bill appears to confuse the Department’s ownership of trademarks with Department programs, and the resultant statutory language may have unintended effects.”

The bill will seek to appropriate funds from federal loans to focus on advertising products. The actual means of doing so are quite vague in the bill. It is also unclear how businesses would be able to join in the effort to have their products advertised. Advertising budgets can be costly, especially if they aim for nation-wide reach. The state will need a solidified plan of how to make an impact on key demographics who would be reached with “Hawaii Made” campaigns.

If passed, DBEDT would be responsible for both regulating the current program and deciding how to use funding from the Cares Act.

It is already illegal to conduct false advertising in Hawaii. Making a false statement regarding the sale of property or services to the general public or a large number of people is an offense under Title 37. As a rule it is prudent to be aware of false advertising or vague wording that anyone might use to sell products. Customers looking to buy “Hawaii Made” goods can protect themselves by asking questions and learning about products before purchasing.