General Merchandise Labelling: An International Checklist

general merchandise labelling
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You’ve heard the saying “It’s what inside that counts”. When it comes to exporting products, that’s not entirely true. General merchandise labelling matters, and if your products are labelled with incorrect information or missing required information, you won’t be able to sell them in your target markets.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at basic general merchandise labelling requirements around the world.

General Merchandise Labelling Requirements

The first rule of exporting is that each market is different. However, some rules are fairly constant no matter where you go. Here’s a checklist of the most common labelling requirements for general merchandise items.


Generally, labels must be printed in the official language or languages of the destination country. All information must be accurately translated- even unintentional errors can put your products in violation.

The main exceptions to this rule are trademarks, as long as they are registered in the destination country in the same language used on the packaging.

Country of Origin

Most countries require that products are labelled with their country of origin, for example, “Made in China”.

The best practice is to use only easily recognisable abbreviations like “The US” or “UK.” Use” China” instead of trying to abbreviate “People’s Republic of China” as “PRC,” for example.

Name and Location of the Manufacturer, Packer or Distributor

Many countries also require the name and location of the manufacturer, packer or distributor – this is sometimes referred to as a “declaration of responsibility”.

Production Descriptions

Product description requirements vary depending on the type of merchandise and the country it’s being sold in. In general, however, you’ll need to include the contents of the product and possibly the materials it’s made of.

Where relevant, your labels should also include the net quantity of the item. Use the measuring system of the destination country. For example, liquids would be labelled in fluid ounces in the US and millilitres in Europe.

Compliance Marks

Some products must be labelled with compliance marks. These marks signal compliance with a particular regulatory standard. One of the most familiar compliance marks is the CE mark. It demonstrates compliance with EU directives such as the Low Voltage Directive, Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), or the EN 71 Toy Safety Directive, amongst others. Any product in a category that’s covered by a CE marking directive needs a CE mark on its label to be sold in the EU.

After Brexit, the UKCA mark will largely replace the CE mark for products being sold on the UK market. Stay tuned for updates, as the details are still being ironed out.

Labelling Requirements for Special General Merchandise Categories

Some categories of general merchandise have additional labelling requirements in many countries. Here are some of the most notable examples:

International Labelling Requirements for Toys and Children’s Items

No parent wants to place their child at unnecessary risk, even unintentionally. That’s why most countries regulate products for children more closely than products for adults.

In terms of labelling, that means almost all children’s products need to include general tracking information like the product type, batch, model and serial number, along with instructions and safety information.

Children’s products destined for the United States must comply with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which mandates permanent tracking labels to assist consumers in the event of product defects or recalls.

Children’s products sold in the EU (and the UK, for now) need a CE mark. Post-Brexit, children’s products destined for the UK market will require a UKCA mark.

International Labelling Requirements for Electronics

From tablets to smartphones, the world is addicted to high tech electronics. These devices make information and communication accessible to people around the world. But sometimes they explode – remember how Samsung almost went under after the Note 7 began spontaneously combusting?

And even old-school electronic devices can be dangerous, with defects or incorrect use causing injury or property damage.

The bottom line is that electronic devices often have special labelling requirements because they can place consumers at risk, whether from an electrical fire or from hazardous materials used in their manufacture. As such, many countries require that electronics meet specific manufacturing standards and be labelled with the appropriate compliance marks.

The required marks vary by intended market. The EU requires electronic device labels to carry a CE mark and a WEEE mark (to advise against disposing of these items in the trash). The United States requires an FCC mark, and China has the CCC mark.

In general, most countries also require labels to warn against potential hazards (like dropping an electronic device into a pool or bathtub).

Apparel and Textiles:

In most countries, apparel and textile labels must list fibre content, size and care instructions. In most markets, care instructions can be illustrated using standardised symbols, like the ones described by the ISO 3758 standard.

However, the symbols themselves may vary between countries. Japan has its own labelling system, for example.

A Note About Caution Symbols

The symbols used on warning labels are not universal around the globe. Make sure you’re using the right symbols for your intended market!

What happens if products are labelled improperly?

Whether information has been omitted or was simply mistranslated, products that aren’t labelled properly often don’t make it past customs.

If they’re impounded at the border, significant wastage is possible for perishable merchandise like cosmetics, or in markets that move quickly. For example, tech products can go from the new hotness to old news in a matter of months. Clothing, meanwhile, goes out of fashion or out of season.

Of course, if your products actually make it past customs, the potential for negative business consequences only increases. Your products could be recalled or destroyed, and you could even face an expensive lawsuit if someone is injured.

Regulations vary widely between markets, which is why we offer bespoke labelling compliance services for our customers. Our experts will make sure your merchandise labels comply with all relevant regulations before they’re shipped out!

And if you do find your products stopped at the border, we offer an easy, cost-effective solution to get them moving again: Multilingual overstickers with the correct information printed in the required languages.

Want to put our team of translation and compliance experts work for you? Contact us today!