CPSIA Exemptions: Excerpts with Brent Stone
On Monday, I spoke with Brent Stone, executive director - operations for the Quality Certification Alliance, about the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) recently announced exemption program. Brent gave me a lot of good information that could be useful to suppliers and distributors, but due to time constraints I wasn't able to include all of it in the original article. Below, I've included a few snippets from the transcript of our interview, discussing ink compliance, the golden sample, and the risks to your client's reputation.
Kyle Richardson: I think one of the biggest concerns with this registry is that people may not realize the difference between being exempted from testing and being exempted from compliance.
Brent Stone: Right. It's highly unlikely that the CPSC will ever put out anything that relieves people from the responsibility of making sure a product is safe and compliant. And I don't know how you do that in our industry without testing.
KR: So some kind of testing has to occur.
BS: Right. I don't know how someone can ensure compliance without using testing as part of the compliance program.
Now, there are two separate governing bodies in play here. I would lump state and federal into one governing group, and then the second group is the court of public opinion. Imagine a small-batch manufacturer who saw this as a reason not to test and delivered an untested product into commerce, and that had a Fortune 500 brand's name on it. If somehow a bad product still got out there, and that brand's name was on it... what is your defense, "well, we followed the law"? How would that work out for the client?
Not only do you have to think about compliance with whatever the federal regulation is, but you also have an obligation to protect the brand. And when you protect the brand, you need to protect it from perception as well as reality. You're not going to be able to argue that ... you were compliant when your buyer's name is ruined. Many people focus on testing, but testing in and of itself is not a complete compliance program.
KR: That touches on something I wanted to specifically ask you. One of the Group A items, that is not exempt, is testing for lead in paint and other surface coatings... doesn't that apply to everything?
BS: I think there's a challenge with these definitions with the paint coating versus the substrate. The reason it was brought up is because you can have situations where a product failed [compliance testing] because of one or the other but not both.
KR: That happened with children's dirt bikes. There were lead components in the engine, which were for the most part inaccessible, but as a result the dirt bikes were considered to be not compliant.
BS: Yeah, there's been a bunch of examples of that. Paint in surface coatings basically means decoration in our industry. One reason that's such a big issue is that when you put something on top of something else, the likelihood of it coming off is greater. The substrate is the structure of the item, and the paint of coating is the decoration, which is going to come off well before the structure comes apart. So you've got to test that anyway, even if you are a small batch manufacturer.
KR: That's what I was assuming. If your product has a logo printed on it, it counts as a surface coating.
BS: Right. So you've got to test that anyway, even if you are a small batch manufacturer. Where this becomes even more complicated is with inks. The ink manufacturers are in compliance, because there is no requirement for them to test. So, we're trying to get them to test their inks, but they respond that they are in compliance. When you look at a whole series of inks they are doing, and then multiple series, you're talking about mid-five figures if not higher to test. So their perspective is, "Why should we do this, you are the only guys asking for it."
I flip that around and say if an ink supplier wants to own this market, then be the first one to test. That would solve a lot of problems for a lot of people, including the small batch manufacturers, and they would roll up a lot of business in doing that.
BS: Now one other thing, this is specifically a product safety conversation, and I deal with this question a lot. A distributor will ask me, "Well, a supplier has a test. Are they in compliance?" And I say, "In compliance with what?" Because from a product safety standpoint, if in fact they have a process that ensures that the sample that was tested matches the production... they have a term for it in China, "the golden sample." That's what the factory is going to send you, the sample they know will pass. Does that match your production? Maybe, maybe not. There have been more instances where it doesn't than where it does. That's where the whole process comes into play.
Setting aside that testing conversation, if you had a product that was proven to be safe, but it was made in a factory that had underage prison labor that wasn't being paid, some worst-case scenario situation, how would that impact Nike or Coke? The press isn't going to say "This distributor uses bad factories." They're going to say "Coke uses bad factories." You can have a safe product from the wrong factory and cause just as much damage to the brand as an unsafe product.
If I was a distributor, I would not accept a small-batch exemption argument from any suppliers. Because it's my customer at risk.