Published on: March 9, 2011by Kate McMahon
The government’s first consumer product safety complaint website, set to officially launch this Friday online, is already under siege.
And we’re only halfway through National Consumer Protection Week.
The public database, SaferProducts.gov, will allow consumers to share complaints about unsafe products ranging from toasters to toys to disposable diapers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will review each complaint before posting, notify the manufacturer and give it the opportunity to respond publicly on the site.
Consumer advocates have long supported the “sunshine” provision in the mandate, signed into law by President Bush, while groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the Toy Industry Association have argued it allows for abuse and unsubstantiated claims.
The CPSC has received about 900 complaints since its “soft launch” of the site in February, and only four were determined to be inaccurate, according to the Washington Post. The commission will start publicly publishing the comments when SaferProducts.gov goes live on Friday.
However, there’s already a roadblock. At the urging of freshman Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), the House of Representatives last month passed an amendment to the 2011 budget bill which blocks the CPSC from spending any money to operate the database. The battle now moves to the Senate. (A group of Senate Democrats has promised to fight the Pompeo amendment. As of yesterday afternoon, the CPSC vowed to launch the site “on time, on budget” this Friday, the final day of National Consumer Protection Week.)
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the balance of consumer safety and manufacturer responsibility, the online debate has deteriorated into typical partisan sniping and criticism of “the Nanny government.”
It’s important to note that the consumer complaints to SaferProducts.gov are limited to product defects that could cause injury or death. The database is restricted to the 15,000 types of consumer goods overseen by the CPSC, which do not include food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, tobacco, automobiles or tires.
If I’m a manufacturer, and my product could pose risk of harm or injury to anyone’s safety, I would certainly want to be immediately alerted of a potential problem, investigate and respond.
And for manufacturers, marketers and retailers, there’s another reality to consider. And that is the speed and strength of the internet, where one irate blog posting (particularly from a Mommy Blogger) can set off a firestorm of criticism, leaving even nimble companies scrambling to respond in the chaos of social media, where there are few rules and fewer filters.
Pompeo wants to delay the database launch to make changes, claiming it could hurt American business by raising costs and subjecting manufacturers to frivolous complaints. He called it a defense attorney’s “bar dream.”
I’m sorry, Congressman, but I don’t think there’s anything frivolous about safety concerns such as lead paint in children’s toys. If a product is sound, a public database does not pose a threat. Consider the brouhaha last year when thousands of parents stormed the blogosphere charging that the new Pampers Dry Max caused rash diaper rash and chemical burns on infants. The database would have revealed the results of the CPSC’s four-month “exhaustive investigation” which found the Procter & Gamble diaper did not pose any safety threat -- and, oh yes, diaper rash happens.
And attempts to defang the law would certainly be rejected by Nikki Johns, whose 9-month-old son Liam died after he was caught in a faulty drop-side crib nearly six years ago at their home in Citrus Heights, Calif.
“If I had know there had been children killed in drop-sides, it would have swayed me against them,” she said.
The SaferProducts.gov site is a forum for shared information – not an imposition by the “Nanny state.” It may cause a logistical headache for some manufacturers, but could also save lives and prevent injury. And recalls and lawsuits. Better than a fair trade, I’d say.
Comments? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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