Distributor to Supplier: Is this Product OK for Children?
I received a call last week from a distributor concerned about an order she had recently shipped through an industry supplier for a children's event. The distributor told me she had inquired of the supplier's customer service rep if the product was OK for children but was now wondering what else she should have done. Here is a capsule of what I recommended.
Start by asking for the product's General Certification of Conformity (GCC) as well as its most recent test reports. A GCC is required by federal law for every consumer product subject to any rule or regulation enforced by CPSC. Regardless of what the test report says, the GCC is the best way to find out if the supplier considers the product as a "children's product." If the supplier does not, even if the test report passes CPSIA standards, it is a red flag that the supplier might not be monitoring each production run to children's product standards.
Recommendation 1 (Children's Product): If you sell a product that you know is intended for children, be sure that the supplier acknowledges through the GCC that it is a children's product. Then, if something goes wrong later, you won't risk being in the position of the supplier saying "we didn't know it was for children and we never said it was a children's product."
So how do you find out from the GCC if the supplier considers the product a "children's product?" You do so by examining the section of the GCC listing the applicable regulations. CPSIA requires the importer or domestic manufacturer to list every CPSC-enforced rule that applies to the product. If the supplier doesn't have a GCC for the product, or if the section noting the applicable rules is blank, it means that the supplier is not acknowledging that the product is a children's product or a children's toy.
If the item is certified for use as a children's product you will see at least two rules listed. The first is CPSIA lead-in-substrate, sometimes called total lead. The second is lead-in-surface coating, sometimes called 16 CFR 1303. Lead in substrate refers to lead in the material that the product is made of. Lead in surface coating refers to lead in any painted surfaces or in the imprint.
If the item is certified as a children's toy you will see at least two more rules in addition to the two lead provisions. One is the mandatory toy safety standard called ASTM F963. That used to be a voluntary standard but Congress made it mandatory when they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The second toy related rule applies to chemicals referred to as "phthalates." CPSIA prohibits the sale of children's toys with concentrations of more than .1% of any of the phthalates DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP and DnOP.
Recommendation 2 (Children's Toy): Same concept as recommendation 1. If you sell a product that you know is likely to be used a children's toy, be sure the supplier acknowledges through the GCC that it is a children's toy.
The GCC requires other information you should note as well. First, make sure that the product identified on the GCC is exactly the same as they one you're buying. Second, look for the name of the U.S. importer or domestic manufacturer certifying compliance of the product. Is it the name of the supplier you're ordering from? If not—perhaps because the supplier bought the product from a local wholesaler—is it a company you know and are comfortable with? The name on the GCC is the party certifying compliance—the party legally responsible if something goes wrong - and ultimately the party you're entrusting with your client's logo. And if this isn't challenging enough, if the supplier buys a blank from an importer and then decorates the product, you need two GCCs—one for the product and one for the decoration.
Recommendation 3 (Responsible party): Look at the GCC for the party certifying compliance. If it is not the supplier you're buying the product from then learn who the importer is and whether it is someone you feel is reliable. Also, in that circumstance, find out if the decoration is to be applied by the importer or someone else—your supplier or a sub contractor. If the answer is "someone else" you'll need a separate GCC for the decoration.
The next important point relates to testing. The GCC requires the date and place where the product was tested for each regulation cited on the GCC and it requires the identification of any third-party laboratory on whose testing the certification depends. Look at the test reports you received and be sure they correspond to exactly what you see on the GCC. The lab name, test date and tests listed should match one for one with the same information noted on the GCC.
Recommendation 4 (Testing): I have written previously on the topic of how to read test reports to be sure your product complies as well as on the limitations of these reports. Review these articles at http://rickbrenner.com and keep them handy for reference. In a nutshell, be sure you have a current test report from a CPSC-certified third party laboratory, that the report is for the identical product, SKU number and color that you ordered, that it includes legible photographs of the product, and that it certifies compliance with every regulation identified on the GCC. You should also be sure that the test report is based on the most current version of the law. A passing grade from June 2011 doesn't necessarily mean that the product passes the new lead threshold that took effect in August 2011.
There are a few other things to note as well:
- A separate GCC is required for every production run—indicating the manufacture date. Be sure that that the GCC you receive is specific to the product you've received.
- Ask your supplier to confirm that the product you are receiving is being manufactured in the same factory where the tested product was manufactured, that there have been no changes in the design or bill of materials since the test and that the tested product was produced from the same raw materials as your production pieces. If not, you should insist that your production pieces be tested.
- It is best to communicate directly with your supplier's compliance department or the supplier's person responsible for compliance. Product safety laws are complicated and evolving. The people most likely to know the most are those who deal with compliance every day. My recommendation is to deal with suppliers who are knowledgeable about these product safety and compliance matters and who provide you with direct phone and email access to get your questions answered.
- This article applies specifically to the children's product provisions in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). There are other federal product safety regulations and there are several state regulations. PPAI has developed an excellent tool called Turbo Test to help distributors and suppliers determine the regulations that may apply to a wide range of products in the industry and PPAI also has a relationship with a third party laboratory that is available to advise members. Also, there are many attorneys whose practices include a specialty in product safety legislation.