Not Knowing the Intended Use of a Product Puts Suppliers and Distributors at Risk
"Unless distributors and suppliers both know the intended use of a product, it's difficult to be sure that the product will comply with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). It can lead to a costly recall that could easily run into six figures plus legal fees," said Rick Brenner, CEO of Bridgeport, Connecticut-based Prime Line and a leading authority on industry product safety issues.
In a new online blog article entitled "Good morning. I'm Calling from the Consumer Product Safety Commission," Brenner describes a scenario in which a backpack had been imprinted with a scene of three little bears heading into a red school house yet the supplier is unaware that the juvenile imprint converts the bag into a children's product.
"So how did we get here and what is the solution," Brenner asks. "The problem started because Congress didn't have the promotional products industry in mind when it wrote the CPSIA. They were targeting companies like Mattel and Hasbro—companies that produce children's products and toys for a specific age range. In fact, the very first criteria that Congress wrote into the law for determining whether a product is a children's product is ... 'A statement by a manufacturer about the intended use of such product if such statement is reasonable.'"
Brenner believes that "industry suppliers usually don't have any idea how an end-buyer is going to use a product. Even if a supplier takes the time to evaluate the art, it can be challenging from the image or slogan to figure out who the product is intended for. Winnie the Pooh is easy. A less obvious but equally juvenile design is not."
"Many times the distributor doesn't even know—particularly in a bid situation or when an order comes over the internet," said Brenner, a candidate for the PPAI Board of Directors. "Without this information, distributors won't know that they should select a compliant product."
At a meeting between Brenner, colleagues at PPAI and CPSC senior staff, the group discussed several possible solutions for our industry:
1) Suppliers can identify in their lines each product that could possibly be regarded by CPSC as a children's product, either because it innately fits the children's product definition or because it could become a children's product after being imprinted with a juvenile image. Then, if each of these products is manufactured and tested to CPSIA children's product standards, there is no issue. No one would have to evaluate art or worry about who a particular order is intended for because every product complies.
2) Another option is for suppliers to indicate in their catalogs, website, and in industry product databases, the specific products in their line that have been manufactured and tested as meeting CPSIA children's product standards. According to Brenner, "this option is a little more risky than option 1 because it requires more vigilance by everyone. If a distributor sends in a juvenile imprint order for one of the products that isn't marked as compliant and the supplier produces and ships it, then liability for everyone is still an issue. This option could work if distributors and suppliers have good communication and orders are clearly marked as 'intended for children.' eDistributors who receive orders over the Internet should require customers to answer a question about the intended use of the product—whether or not it is intended for young children—and the response should be included on the corresponding order to their supplier."
"The one thing that none of us in the industry can afford to do is to ignore this issue or assume it is someone else's problem," Brenner said. "This is a case where it really does take a village—everyone working together—supplier, distributor and end-buyer—so we make sure we all get it right. Who is the product intended for? Are children involved? If so, select only products which have been manufactured and tested as compliant with CPSIA standards. On that issue, there is no other option."
Brenner writes frequently on product safety and other industry issues. The complete text of this blog and others can be viewed at www.rickbrenner.com. Brenner was co-chair of the PPAI's first Product Safety Summit held this past August in Denver. He is a member of PRAG—PPAI's Product Responsibility Action Group and a founding board member and Compliance Committee Chair of the Quality Certification Alliance.
For more information, visit Prime Line's website.