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CPSIA – The War Over Pompeo’s Amendment to De-Fund CPSC Database

The players are lining on either side of Rep. Mike Pompeo’s brave amendment to de-fund the terrible CPSC public injury/incident database. The problem with the database is that it will likely be filled with garbage and malicious material that no manufacturer can effectively block. As you know, once the material is out on the Internet, it can’t be retracted in any practical way. This prompted Wayne Morris of AHAM to call the database a government-sponsored “blog” at yesterday’s Congressional hearing. Pompeo’s amendment, no. 545 to the Continuing Resolution on the House Floor right now, is likely be to voted on later today, possibly in the wee hours of night. It’s NOT too late to ask your Congressman to support it!

The National Association of Manufacturers sent out the following email and letter in support of Mr. Pompeo’s amendment:

“Colleagues,

The NAM sent the following letter to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives supporting an amendment by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to discontinue funding for implementation and operation of the CPSC’s Product Safety Information Database for the remainder of this fiscal year to allow Congress the time necessary to fix the remaining challenges with the implementing rules. We expect a vote on his amendment #545 to H.R. 1 the Continuing Resolution sometime this evening. You are encouraged to share your support for this amendment to Members of the House.”

And on the other side, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter in opposition. It contains the usual tired and worn posturing that we have endured for three years now. Interestingly, Mr. Markey did not attend yesterday’s hearing of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade which concerned the database in large part. I guess there’s no reason to listen to testimony if you know everything already, right?

Markey’s letter:

“OPPOSE THE POMPEO #545 AMENDMENT ON CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY

From: The Honorable Edward J. Markey
Sent By:
Bill: H.R. 1
Date: 2/18/2011

February 18, 2011

OPPOSE THE POMPEO #545 AMENDMENT

PROTECT PARENTS’ ABILITY TO GET EARLY WARNINGS ON POTENTIALLY DEFECTIVE TOYS AND OTHER CONSUMER PRODUCTS

Dear Colleague:

I write to urge a NO vote on amendment #545, which would eliminate funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC’s) online, searchable database. This database enables members of the public to report and obtain information about potentially defective products that could cause serious injury or even death.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passed the House by a vote of 424 to 1 and was signed into law by President Bush in August 2008. It contained language I originally authored to create this online “Early Warning System” for those who wish to report or research potentially harmful or defective toys and other products.

The need for this database is clear: Before its creation, it often took YEARS before the public ever learned of serious threats to health and safety that some products posed. For example, although both industry and the CPSC were first made aware that small magnets that easily fell out of children’s toys were causing serious, life-threatening injuries in 2000, it took FIVE years before the public was given any information, and more than SEVEN YEARS before a full recall of the products occurred.

The CPSC has implemented my database requirement in a responsible and reasonable way – it allows industry ten days in which to challenge the material accuracy associated with all reports and even provides the opportunity for industry to comment on reports it believes are erroneous, so consumers can hear both sides of the story.

Moreover, a recent poll found that eighty-seven percent of those surveyed want the ability to find out if another consumer experienced a safety hazard with a consumer product.

However, industry now wants to turn the clock back and return to a time when news of products that may maim or kill can be kept secret in the interests of maximizing profits and keeping the public in the dark.

VOTE NO on the Pompeo amendment to take this vital safety tool away from mothers and fathers all across this country.

Sincerely,

Edward J. Markey”

Read more here:
CPSIA – The War Over Pompeo’s Amendment to De-Fund CPSC Database

CPSIA – Schylling Penalty Update

You may recall that I have written about the excessive penalty inflicted on Schylling for old and cold lead-in-paint infractions in the amount of $200,000. These infractions did NOT result in injuries. [As I have noted previously, I have no firsthand knowledge of this matter, nor do I have any direct relationship to the principals involved in this penalty.]

Well well now, some of the more astute observers of the CPSC may have noticed that poor ole’ Schylling did not actually end up paying the excessive $200,000 penalty. No, that agreement was apparently REJECTED in favor of a new agreement signed on May 18. The new agreement, which is virtually identical to the original agreement executed by the CPSC on January 19 (but for a non-substantive paragraph 30 and an order attached at the end) DOUBLES the penalty inflicted on Schylling to $400,000. The agreement was published for comment in the Federal Register on June 2.

Whoa.

So what happened?

It’s not entirely clear. The original agreement was announced by press release on February 4 and notes: “The penalty settlement, which has been provisionally accepted by the Commission, resolves staff allegations that the company violated the federal lead paint ban regarding toys with surface paints containing lead above the 600 parts per million (ppm) legal limit applicable at the time, and failed to immediately report to CPSC information about the non-compliant toys.”

The press release goes on to quote Ms. Tenenbaum sternly admonishing Schylling for violations that occurred between June 2001 and May 2003: “Manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers have a legal obligation to ensure that no banned products are introduced into or distributed in the U.S. marketplace, and to inform CPSC as soon as they become aware of information that must be reported under our laws. We will continue to penalize companies that do not follow these basic requirements.”

The normal procedure is for the settlement agreement to be published for comment in the Federal Register, but that never happened. Although the February 4th press release states unambiguously that the settlement agreement had been provisionally accepted by the Commission, something derailed the agreement and back to drawing board it went. It’s possible that the Office of Public Affairs somehow jumped the gun with the press release, too. Nevertheless, the time between signing and press release suggests it had to be something else. But what? I cannot find the Public Calendar for this time period but there were probably at least two closed Commission meetings that could have considered this case.

Somebody was NOT happy with the size of the penalty for these old violations. Schylling apparently changed law firms to deal with the revived crisis (two different firms signed the agreements) and four months later, a new agreement doubling the penalty was signed by the parties.

There is no public record of who was unhappy or why. It could have been a Commission member. It could also have been one of the self-appointed protectors of the public good, our good friends the consumer advocates. Who knows? I will be submitting a FOIA request to see what I can find out. Watch this space carefully over the next several years to see if I ever get an answer.

Everyone feeling safe and happy? How about you manufacturers? Happy about justice being served?

Here’s another serious oddity: The statute of limitations for these violations had RUN by the time the agreement was signed. The CPSC should not have been able to assess penalties in this case. Hmmm. Let’s unpack this a bit further. There are really TWO kinds of violations here – (a) lead-in-paint violations, and (b) failure to timely report the violation. On the former, the statute of limitations is apparently quite clear – it had run out. The CPSC had no legal ability to hammer Schylling for lead-in-paint violations that were so old. Bummer for the agency.

Just as the FBI uses the device of failure to report income to put away gangsters like Al Capone, the CPSC has another trick up its sleeve. The other violation, failure to timely report, is in a grey area as far as the statute of limitation goes. Does the statute start to run when the company should have reported . . . or does it run from the date the company finally files a report? This has never been tested in court. The CPSC seems to have seized on this ambiguity to assert penalties against Schylling. To judge by the outcome, the company did not relish litigation with the Federal Government. The old rule that you should never litigate with someone with a printing press holds doubly true in conflicts with the Obama Administration. They clearly know how to print money.

So the CSPC doubled an excessive penalty on a hapless toy company without the means or the will to push back, and set a terrible precedent that could be used . . . against you. The due process rights of corporations are trampled again. Who is protesting? No one.

All this brings to mind the March 3rd Commission hearing on the new civil penalty rule. Commissioner Bob Adler took a very hard position on penalties:

“I do think that the regulated community deserves to know that we are making a ‘pivot’ with respect to enforcing the law [referring to the size of penalties] [28:20] . . . . I certainly agree that we have to have gradations of civil penalties depending on the gravity of the offense. I personally wouldn’t want to tie our hands by saying that the only time we can hit you with a big civil penalty is when there was a death or a serious injury. There may be an immense potential for death and serious injury which just through fortuity did not occur. So what I would like do is to retain the discretion on the Commission to say where you have done something REALLY BAD, and it could be a variety of factors, we are going to impose civil penalties. But there may be situations where what the company did was REALLY BAD but through fortuity, nobody was injured or nobody was killed. [32:00]” [Emphasis added]

Call it the “Adler Penalty Principle”. Schylling’s case did not involve any injuries, but perhaps under unforeseeable circumstances, a child or two could have been injured by the toys. They weren’t but that doesn’t seem to matter under the Adler Penalty Principle. The company also failed to report (see my original blogpost for details). another “crime” needing retribution. One cannot help wondering if Mr. Adler decided this was one of those “REALLY BAD” cases. It’s not clear how such an assessment is to be made. Adler explicitly rejected outcome as a measure of the severity of infractions. In any event, a massive penalty like this is clearly intended to terrorize the regulated community. The niceties of whether the company’s behavior merited this treatment seems to be a secondary consideration.

The penalty policy of this CPSC Commission is completely arbitrary, excessive and intended to be highly coercive. Practitioners in the CPSC Bar have regaled me with stories of the CPSC’s use of the penalty free-for-all to coerce all sorts of unreasonable settlements.

Every outcome can be justified in a world without rules or due process protections. Maybe that’s the pivot that Adler was referring to.

Read more here:
CPSIA – Schylling Penalty Update

CPSIA – Lowest Common Neurosis

I have a new legal standard for the CPSC in its continuing effort to make everyone so, so, SOOOO safe: the “Lowest Common Neurosis”. Under this innovative legal standard, our safety agency would reset its legal standards and reissue 2500 pages of rules every time a ridiculous news article appears touting a poorly-conceived, made-up phobia relating to children’s products. There are so many examples to think of, from cadmium jewelry (thanks, AP!) to Zhu Zhu Pets with lethal noses to the latest craze, making hourly employees at the checkout counter cough up General Conformity Certificates on the spot.

Hadn’t heard of that one yet? This is the latest craze sweeping the nation, thoughtfully brought to our attention by the Dallas CBS affiliate on May 10. Their report begins ominously: “Mindee Haas buys plenty of toys for her 15-month-old daughter Sophia. Haas, 33, says she usually trusts those toys are safe, but her trust is fading after a recent run of toy recalls.”

Ah, the “recent run of toy recalls”. And those were what, precisely??? I think the crack CBS “investigator” is referring to the recalls in 2007/8. They certainly couldn’t be referring to recent recalls because toy recall rates have fallen precipitously. According to data from the CPSC website, there have been a grand total of nine recalls through April 15 of this year (one alleged injury, from laceration) and only 32 in 2009 (20 alleged injuries and one death, none from lead). This is very low by historical standards. Of the 3 billion toys estimated sold per year in our country, only 4,530,860 were recalled in 2009 over 32 recalls. The total units recalled this year is 888,680 through April 15. This amounts to a recall of approximately 1 in 1,000 toys sold (in other words, 99.9% toys were NOT recalled in 2009/10).

I guess a crisis is whatever CBS Dallas says it is.

Apparently not satisfied with creating a scare about imaginary recalls, the CBS affiliate continues to intone, quoting the mom: “‘I don’t want [my daughter] to be a lab rat at home,’ said Haas ‘There are so many things in toys these days that we just don’t know the effects of them long term and that’s what’s scary.’ Toy after toy has been yanked off the shelves deemed unsafe for children.”

To “investigate”, CBS decided to find evidence of toy safety. They chose the low budget route and opted to NOT test toys, perhaps fearing that the toys would pass (and then what would they be able to say?). Instead, Matahari-like, “CBS 11 News went undercover inside the most popular toy stores to see if they had the certificates for their toys.”

Frankly, if I still had a sense of humor about this awful law and its devastating consequences, I might find this rather amusing. I don’t. Here’s what CBS did, in their own words:

“Employees at both stores and even a manager said this was the first time they heard about safety certificates. ‘I have a guest who’s wanting to buy a toy she says she was told that you can get a certificate printed out something that says there’s been a lead recall or not,’ asked a Target employee ‘It shows if the toy has been tested for lead.’ We waited as the employee got an answer from her manager, ‘Do you know anything about that?’ Manager: ‘No I have never heard that we don’t have certificate.’” Incredibly, the checkout person at Babies R Us and Toys R Us also did not have a copy of the company’s safety files right there for inspection. Whoa!

I think this is CBS’s hidden camera video of their investigation:

CBS was able to get some great insights on the problem from a SMU Marketing professor. He thinks the stores are blowing it. “‘Not only is it important to have [the GCCs], but you could use [the certificates] to market your store,’ explained [Dan] Howard ‘You could advertise the fact that we have it!’ When asked how difficult he thought it was to simply know about the certificates Howard responded ‘Not difficult at all!’”

Dan Howard says it’s not difficult at all to have checkout counter access to GCCs at Target, TRU and all other U.S. retail outlets for children’s products. Well that settles it! I sense a new rule a-comin’!

And how does Mom feel about the CBS findings? I think she articulates our new Lowest Common Neurosis rather well: “‘Just not knowing if the companies are being responsible enough to know what’s in their products that’s what’s concerning,’” said Haas. She says she will stick to going to her mom and pop shops for the time being.”

Anyone want to kick in for a national Xanax fund?

Read more here:
CPSIA – Lowest Common Neurosis

CPSIA – The Myth of the "Common Toy Box"

If you wonder why Waxman and his staff won’t discuss a change to the age limits in the CPSIA, it’s their fear of the “common toy box”. They claim that unless a wide net is spread over children’s products, small children could be “affected” by the toys of older children in the same home.

It is absolutely outrageous that an urban myth could send thousands of businesses down the river and cost literally billions in compliance and regulatory expenses. While common toy boxes are not themselves a myth, their ability to cause bodily injury is certainly fantastic.

I know it’s downright prissy to discuss numbers in this era of junk science but, ahem, where’s the evidence that so-called “common toy boxes” cause injuries? I am not aware of a SINGLE incident where this occurred. If you restrict your inquiry to lead injuries, the phobia du jour, I am even more certain that it has NEVER HAPPENED.

And what if it did happen? I submit that we cannot and SHOULD NOT conclude that anything is “unsafe” based on a single incident. Have you never heard of “accidents”? The concept of safety administration is inherently economic in nature, so the risk and cost of controlling that risk must be considered before making any choices. The risk of injury from “common toy boxes” needs to be evaluated for the probability of occurrence, and for whether the cost to remediate is greater than the benefit to be gained.

Is that really so outlandish? Am I some sort of corporate “tool” for daring to suggest this? If so, I challenge you to counter my argument that getting out of bed in the morning involves weighing risks. If you were to equally weight all known risks, without considering the probability of incurring the costs of those risks, you would never leave your bed – too risky. In fact, you would probably sleep below your bed in the basement, which provides better protection against meteorites. We intuit this every day without difficulty and bear these low risks because we believe we can control them.

Absurd example? Is the over-weighting of a single injury or death from lead any different?

Our company has been in business for almost 26 years. I have previously acknowledged that we have had one recall, for a grand total of 130 pieces (out of perhaps 1 billion pieces sold). These items were sold to 14 customers, and we called each one and got back more than 100% of what we shipped out. The world was made safe again for mankind. That is it for us. I submit that our safety record is not an accident. If that’s true (and it is), what is America gaining by the excessive costs we will bear under this law, or worse, the dramatic liability risks we now face? All because Waxman’s staff can’t get past the “common toy box”.

The sham of the justification of the “common toy box” is further exposed by presence in a child’s life of so many other sources of the very same risk that this law seeks to eradicate.

  • Will it rid the world of lead? Certainly not, it’s in our food, potable water and air. The media is awash in articles about lead in drinking fountains in schools. Lead pipes have been conveying our water for years. And good luck getting rid of brass in the home. And “deadly” rhinestones are in every girl’s closet already.
  • Will it prevent lead-in-substrate from entering their world? No, products outside children’s products remain unregulated, including products intended for the home but not specifically intended for kids (e.g., pens and housewares). Even dog toys will continue to be unregulated. Do you think children handle dog toys? Come on!
  • Will the law even eliminate lead-in-paint from a child’s life? No – it’s smeared all over your cars. Will your kid touch your car more often than he/she sucks on his bike’s tire valve? One word – duh.

The justification of the “common toy box” is a negotiating ploy. It’s an artifice to permit the utter change of our safety system from risk-based to a European-style set if precautionary and prescriptive rules. The idea sells and no one gives it much thought, which is all that matters. As last week’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing demonstrated, this new era permits members of Congress to justify their existence with long rants on their basic and poorly-researched fears (such as antimony on the nose of a Zhu Zhu Pet). Anything goes when you are afraid of a toy box.

Don’t buy into the logic of the precautionary principle people. If you do, you will end in the “common rubbish bin” with the rest of the victim businesses.

Read more here:
CPSIA – The Myth of the "Common Toy Box"

CPSIA – Waxman’s New Amendment Progress Report

In the last couple weeks, Rep. Henry Waxman’s staff on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has been approaching Republicans and various stakeholders for feedback for a “bipartisan” approach to fixing the CPSIA. In these discussions, the staff has acknowledged that the law is “flawed” and requires surgery, not just tweaks. An interim (artificial) deadline of this week has been established for comments on their planned amendment. A draft of this amendment has not seen the light of day yet. No one knows what it will say.

While this may sound “good”, the Waxman staffers have also attempted to constrain the development of the amendment. For starters, they insist that the amendment be based on the failed Waxman amendment of last December. [Last year's try was covered in several posts in my blog from December 11-16.] They have also drawn quite a few lines in the sand, such as no change to age limits in Children’s Products. They favor exemptions for individual product categories or even individual products, a Swiss Cheese approach. [I hate this approach, as does just about everyone else other than the Waxmanites.]

The Waxmanites seem interested in helping out the ATV’rs. Apparently, the legislative logic is that if the amendment caters to the ATV’rs, who have been quite noisy and enjoy wide support among members of Congress, no one will be able to vote against the amendment for political reasons. Thus, the makings of a Democrat victory and the appearance of bipartisanship. I can see it now: “The two parties worked together and fixed the parts of the law that caused unintended consequences. All is well!”

Among the “have-nots” in this approach:

  • “Common Sense”. This case-by-case or product-by-product approach means that the Waxmanites refuse to even consider trusting the CPSC to do its job and assess risk for itself. The only people the Waxmanites and consumer groups can trust are . . . are . . . themselves. You won’t be able to draw a line between those that are “in” and those that are “out” in any rational way.
  • Rhinestones. On the subject of rhinestones, my understanding is that they are so resolute on keeping these innocent stones in the bill that they would be willing to write rhinestones in explicitly. This is the opposite of case-by-case exclusion – it’s a case-by-case INCLUSION.
  • Educational Products. While the Waxmanites say they want to exclude educational products, they can’t figure out how to do it since you might use an educational product in your home. Horrors! Again, without a simple notion of what’s safe and what’s not, how do you expect a sensible rule to emerge from this primordial goo?
  • Bikes. They really want to figure out how to help bikes but can’t seem to do it. For this reason, they are chatting about an indoor/outdoor exclusion. In other words, and I am not kidding, they have suggested a rule that if you keep something in your garage, it’s “out”, and if you keep it indoors, it’s “in”. So everybody – move all your toys, children’s clothing and shoes, furniture, books, pens, appliances and so on into your garage, quick, so you can qualify for this great new exemption! [Try to resist holding a garage sale, though, because that presents special risks under the law!]

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I am happy they are thinking of an amendment, but I am not happy that we still find ourselves adrift without any sense of what’s safe and what’s not. It is hard to foresee an amendment that does much good with this kind of inflexibility. Bipartisanship promises to be hard to obtain or a sham staged by Democrats for their own benefit.

Remarkably, a hidden issue that may weigh on these proceedings is the growing awareness of paralysis at the CPSC. The agency saw a massive increase in its budget last year, to match its massive new responsibilities, but still finds itself mired in open projects and conflicting priorities. Simple things are taking forever. Agency paralysis cannot be prevented in this environment without a significant paring of CPSIA priorities, something that the Waxmanites have a hard time conceding. And Obama won’t give the agency more money, so they’re stuck. And we’re stuck.

That’s not where you want to be.

Something to think about as we go forward:

  1. Principle One: Your silence is deemed to be your approval. Silence = approval. You must swing from the rafters to get their attention, too. No, don’t do that – too dangerous.
  2. Principle Two: An unopposed view, particularly a document with footnotes, is considered definitive. After all, if it were wrong, why didn’t anyone point it out, with footnotes? This is really how the Waxmanites think.

You need to keep these principles in mind. Your loud involvement can help a lot.

To Be Continued . . . .

Read more here:
CPSIA – Waxman’s New Amendment Progress Report

CPSIA – In Defense of Lead

Perhaps you have been expecting it. After all the “heat” in this blog over the past year, finally, my defense of lead. Hope you’re happy now. . . .

Last Friday, Commissioner Bob Adler posted his long-awaited position paper on lead and related CPSIA issues. Weighing in at 21 pages and 89 footnotes, Mr. Adler’s paper includes a thorough recitation of facts as well as his recommendations about the law. Among other things, he recommends making the lead exemption process more flexible and allowing clothing to be sold through charity resale shops. He also left the door open to changes that would ease the economic burden of the CPSIA on small businesses and low-income consumers. I agree with all of these changes – but I also think many other and more extensive changes are needed, too. I do not agree with the basis of Mr. Adler’s reasoning, however, and that makes all the difference.

Mr. Adler devotes about half of his statement to a detailed analysis of lead safety, reciting many facts not in dispute. Unfortunately, he then leaps to familiar conclusions that we have seen in recent Commission meetings and which are also found in many of his written statements. He does signal some extremely limited flexibility on lead, more or less hewing to the line put forth by Central Casting.

Ironically, Mr. Adler’s statement sometimes leaves you wondering where he stands, since he seems so sympathetic to both sides. It is frustrating to not have a clear picture of how he really sees the world. I fail to find persuasive his argument that the lead rules are good for us when they lead to ridiculous results like the banning of brash bushings on toy cars. Mr. Adler himself noted in the Learning Curve hearing that the brass bushings pose NO risk to children at a hypothetical tipping point with blood lead levels (in other words, the toys were incontrovertibly safe) – and then voted to ban them because the law compelled it. This should trigger a sense of outrage in the Commissioner . . . but it doesn’t.

To me, as an ex-lawyer, the illogical results documented in the Learning Curve case are intolerable. It is proof of a defective law and a defective system. Banning acknowledged safe products is a SIGN of problems, not something to rejoice in. As you know, it costs money to toss away perfectly good product. It also costs a lot of money to employ CPSC staff and Commissioners to decide silly cases like the brass bushing case. Something’s quite wrong if we are celebrating a system so obviously broken.

i believe there are fundamental flaws in Mr. Adler’s views on lead which prompt him to make recommendations basically defending a broken, illogical and self-destructive legislative system. Let me start by stating what I considered to be incontrovertible facts:

  • Lead is bad
  • Lead can be dangerous to children
  • Harming children is bad, and unacceptable if reasonably foreseeable.
  • Lead poisoning in children is largely if not entirely the fault of lead house paint and leaded gasoline

Mr. Adler makes the latter point in his footnote 83: “Clothing is not a significant source of lead poisoning. Far and away the greatest source of lead poisoning is lead paint in older housing, lead-saturated soil from gasoline emanated over the years from automobile exhausts, and lead-saturated dust (both from paint and gasoline).” [Other citations omitted] It is important to remember that Mr. Adler KNOWS that blood lead level problems stem from house paint and the long term consequences of years of leaded gasoline use (particularly in the inner city).

Mr. Adler tries to prove that lead is bad – but that fact beyond dispute. He goes further and builds the case that there is no “safe” level of lead, providing citations. Thus established, he then seems to justify the legislation’s strict terms based on the logic that if science hasn’t identified a safe level for lead, every instance of lead is therefore dangerous: “We may have currently reached the outer limits of our ability to measure negative effects of exposure to small amounts of lead, but that does not mean that no adverse effects are occurring. It basically means that we do not know.” Scary stuff. . . but what does he really think?

It’s hard to tell. Notwithstanding his assertion that no level of lead is safe, Adler seems oddly reassured by the permitted levels set by Congress: “[Given] that lead remains ubiquitous and often unavoidable, policymakers who are fully aware of lead’s risks, have sought to determine some level of lead that would be acceptable – at least until new information becomes available.” And these all-knowing policymakers (Congress) set a retroactive scheme of rapidly declining permitted lead levels. In other words, what was considered “safe” (meaning legal) on February 9, 2009, was “unsafe” on February 10, 2009, and what was considered “safe” on February 10, 2009 became “unsafe” on August 14, 2009, and what was “safe” on August 14, 2009 promises to become “unsafe” on August 14, 2011. Mr. Adler analyzes retroactivity under the CPSIA in his statement and then endorses it. Huh?

I fail to grasp the logic of either Congress or Mr. Adler here. Is lead in substrate dangerous or is it not? Is there a safe level for lead or is there not? Is lead safe on one day, and not safe on the next day? If so, can someone explain the science of that safe/unsafe trigger to me? I believe Mr. Adler’s accommodative attitude toward the lead standards and retroactivity is best explained by politics than by any notions of safety or risk.

It is even harder to take Adler’s stern tones on lead seriously when you consider the volume of lead elsewhere in a child’s life. Will regulation of lead in substrate in children’s products have any material impact on blood lead levels? Can anyone prove that it will, or that the cost of getting rid of all the lead is worth the cost? Remember that we could redeploy the same money for more impactful projects, like eliminating high lead levels in drinking water in schools or remediating soil contaminated with lead. We have already covered the fact that Mr. Adler knows that blood lead levels are fundamentally tied to exposure to leaded house paint and contaminated soil. It is also well-known that cars are coated in lead paint, legally under our laws. Lead is also in our food chain, is found in nature – and enters our bodies every day. [For data on this topic, see "Eat My Dust".] By obsessing on children’s products in the face of these facts, Congress ensured that its new legislation would fail to deliver measurable results.

In essence, the slogan “no safe level for lead” connotes a risk-free condition. “Risk-free” is an unrealistic standard and FAR too expensive as public policy. Mr. Adler uses this formulation in his lengthy analysis of used clothing sales: “In sum, I cannot state with certainty that a “safety” threshold of, say, 1 µg/dL blood level change would never occur from zipper sucking. . . . The fact that I cannot say there is no risk is why I characterize the choice [between allowing and banning resale of used clothing] as between bad and worse.” [Emphasis added] Mr. Adler is not following a legal principle here, he is asserting one. This is the precautionary principle, the famous Nanny State being implemented before your very eyes.

It is difficult to diffuse an argument based on the elimination of all possible risk. If we wish to organize our society around the elimination of risk, rather than the management of risk, we are doomed. All of us, not just the children’s product industry. The sad truth is that no one in the Federal government can prove that the policies of the last 35 years on lead caused injury. Mr. Adler implicitly asserts that our inability to prove that it DIDN’T is enough justification to throw the old system out. This is a belief system, not science.

The fear of risk is fanned by the threat of undetectable dangers. Mr. Adler notes: “To say the effects [of lead on healthy children] are not directly observable is not to say that that they are minor.” He amplifies this point by implying a link to children’s products to lead injuries without any proof of a relationship: “[MRI] technology has permitted us to identify permanent damage in adults stemming from childhood lead exposures.” Exposure to what, precisely? ABC blocks or the soil next to an inner-city apartment building in the leaded gasoline era? Mr. Adler’s assertion that we just don’t know what the harm is dodges the real question – how do you know there is any harm resulting from THESE USES OF LEAD? No answer is supplied because no one can answer that question.

The Adler statement paints a pretty compelling picture and the 89 footnotes were presumably intended to add academic gravitas to his arguments. However, not all academics agree with Adler. Here are videos of the presentations of two Ph.D.s who specialize in risk assessment in children’s products and lead issues taking an opposite view: Richard Reiss of Exponent and Barbara Beck of Gradient. They both note that the dose makes the poison and that only through true risk assessment will a sensible safety system be possible.

A couple brief notes:

- Mr. Adler talks a lot about retroactivity in the CPSIA. At the end of the day, he comes down . . . get ready for it . . . in favor of retaining retroactivity, but also for the recommendation of the Commission to make the pending 100 ppm lead standard prospective. I am not commenting on his arguments other than to say that I think relaxation of this provision would bring considerable economic relief without any possibility of physical harm to anyone. That’s enough reasoning for me.

- In calling for change to the lead exemption process, Adler is apparently willing to support only “a modest expansion in the amount of discretion granted to the Commission”. I find this rather curious and unexplained – he only wants a little discretion. Why? Does he worry that the Commission can’t handle the responsibility for full discretion? Again, why? I wonder if greater powers suggested this very limited recommendation out of a lack of “trust”, namely trust of future Commissions not hand-picked by this Dem-dominated Congress. No matter the explanation, it is curious indeed to see a Commissioner ask Congress to extend his Commission limited discretion.

- Adler devotes considerable space to sale of children’s clothing at resale shops. He ultimately recommends that charity resale shops be allowed to sell children’s clothing (possibly subject to posted Proposition 65-like warnings, see footnote 88). Adler’s logic in this section is puzzling to me. Is Adler trying to defend children or defend the CPSIA? He concedes that clothing has no history of causing injury from lead but is apparently troubled that it cannot be proven that a child couldn’t be harmed by clothing. Incredibly, he resolves the dilemma by distinguishing between resales made by charity shops and by for-profit shops, leaving the latter out of his proposed exemption. So is he approving the sale of unsafe products by charity resale shops to poor people so they can stay warm? Or is he saying that the clothes are probably safe, but can’t be sold by for-profit stores for . . . what reason? If the clothing is safe to sell, sell it . . . and if it isn’t, don’t. WHO sells it shouldn’t matter. But apparently it does.

An aside: Mr. Adler uses some strong language to discuss those of us who have pushed back on this law: “As I have waded into the debate, I have encountered many thoughtful, sincere, and anguished concerns about the CPSIA. I have also heard numerous overheated arguments, scanned many bloviating blogs, and read great numbers of error-laden emails (and letters) commenting on the law.” For those of you who don’t know this SAT word, “bloviating” is defined as “[to] discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner” on dictionary.com. I wish our government officials would stick to the issues and avoid attacking the exercise of Free Speech by U.S. citizens. This is particularly the case here, since after a long fight, many of those bloviaters have been proven right. I don’t expect thanks, but I think this is out of line.

I could go on, but I won’t. Mr. Adler’s voice in the debate is an important one and I appreciate his efforts to set the record straight. I don’t agree with him and appreciate the opportunity to reply.

You be the judge!

Read more here:
CPSIA – In Defense of Lead

CPSIA – Anne Northup’s Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal

For those of you who may have missed it over the holidays, here is Commissioner Anne Northup’s Op-Ed in Thursday’s WSJ:

OPINION
DECEMBER 24, 2009
12:07 A.M. ET

There Is No Joy in Toyland
The overreach of a child-safety law is killing American jobs and businesses. It’s not too late for some common-sense changes.

By ANNE M. NORTHUP

With the unemployment rate stubbornly high and President Obama focused on job creation, it’s a perfect time for Congress to revisit a law that’s making our economic problems worse, and spoiling Christmas for many kids to boot.

Thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), small businesses like Baby Sprout Naturals and Whimsical Walney have already closed their doors. And some 40% of companies responding to a Toy Industry Association survey planned to eliminate jobs this year because the cost and complexity of compliance with this law is too great. For manufacturers and sellers of children’s products, perhaps a renewed interest in saving small businesses comes in the nick of time.

The safety legislation, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2008, is a study in the law of unintended consequences. The new law reduced the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s longstanding discretion to act in response to genuine risks, substituting instead the rigid, broad-brush, and unscientific judgment of Congress.

Though written in response to dozens of recalls of Chinese-made toys with lead paint, the law goes well beyond lead paint (which poses an undeniable risk to children) to ban all children’s products that contain a component with more than three one-hundredths of 1% lead. This means such ordinary items as zippers, buttons, belts, the hinge on a child’s dresser—and even that bicycle from Santa Claus—are outlawed.

These products often contain lead in excess of the new legal limit, but unlike lead surface paint, this lead is contained within the metal or other substrate material. The lead can rub off these items in miniscule amounts detectable only with sensitive lab equipment, but it is not “bioavailable”—meaning it is unable to be extracted and absorbed into a child’s bloodstream. By failing to distinguish between easily absorbable lead in paint and not easily absorbable lead in other materials, the legislation was a dramatic overreach.

It gets worse. In addition to banning components that do not create a lead hazard for children, the law also imposes onerous product testing by outside labs that smaller manufacturers and handicraft makers simply cannot afford. Instead of spending money to expand and create jobs, companies have diverted billions of dollars so far to destroy innocuous but noncompliant inventory, as well as to understand and meet complex new compliance obligations.

Major charities, like Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army, have publicly estimated lost inventory and disposal costs at $100 million to $170 million in secondhand children’s clothing—such as winter coats with metal snaps—that’s not affordable to test for compliance, yet still needed by many families.

Bicycle manufacturers have re-engineered dozens of parts from more expensive and less environmentally friendly materials to replace handle bars, spokes, tire valve stems and other harmless metal parts that contain lead.

To cope with annual testing costs running to half a million dollars or more, domestic retailers and manufacturers like Challenge & Fun, Inc., Constructive Playthings, and ETA Cuisenaire (a maker of educational tools), have reduced payrolls or limited product lines. Many small apparel companies, including JenLynnDesigns, have either closed shop or exited the children’s apparel market completely.

In just the first eight months after enactment, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that the 2008 safety law cost businesses in the “billions of dollars range,” including: more than $2 billion in losses to the toy industry; $200 million in potentially violative inventory for members of one apparel industry group (the California Fashion Association); and an estimated $1 billion in annual losses reported by the Motorcycle Industry Council for lost sales of youth model motorbikes and off-road vehicles. Several popular German toymakers such as Selecta Spielzeug, whose products comply with stringent EU regulations, have stopped selling their toys in this country. Consumers are facing higher prices for a smaller variety of products that are no safer than before.

Some of the commission’s decisions have made matters worse. Last month my colleagues in the majority interpreted one exclusion built into the statute based on the absorbability of lead so inflexibly that not a single children’s product could qualify for it. That vote denied a petition for exemption to brass axle collars on toy cars even though—as one majority commissioner admitted—the commission’s staff would have no concerns about letting their own children play with them. The commission thus decided that the law prohibits the sale of toys that impart less lead than the Food and Drug Administration allows in a piece of candy.

For the past several months, American businesses have been caught in the middle of a classic standoff between the federal commissioners in the majority, who argue that the statute ties their hands, and members of Congress, who claim they wrote flexibility into the law and blame the commission for any harsh consequences. Although the commission steadfastly refused to reach out to Congress to seek clarifications to the law, Congress has now reached out to us—asking the agency last week for a list of recommendations to amend the statute.

Thankfully the commission responded, in part, by agreeing to extend the stay on testing and certification for lead content. This window gives Congress time to consider such common-sense changes as: allowing for higher lead content in products like bicycles where only a tiny amount could be absorbed; restoring the commission’s longstanding discretion to focus its efforts in response to genuine risks; lowering the age range covered by the law so that products for 12-year-old children and 12-month-old babies are not treated identically; and eliminating the retroactive effect of the law—which disproportionately affects libraries and thrift stores. Hopefully, this request from Congress will result in real changes to the law, not a half-hearted effort on our part or Congress’s to avoid responsibility for the problem.

President Obama could help this process along by urging Congress to pursue a bipartisan fix. We can protect children from harmful products without striking a blow against the teetering American economy—but we must act quickly. Otherwise, the CPSIA’s Grinch-like rules will needlessly cost our country more jobs and reduce the opportunity for small businesses to help lead our country out of recession.

Ms. Northup is a Republican commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission. She represented Louisville, Ky., in Congress from 1997-2006.

Read more here:
CPSIA – Anne Northup’s Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal

CPSIA – CPSC Clears Zhu Zhu Pets . . . But The Damage Can’t Be Repaired

Last week, in the heat of the post-Thanksgiving holiday buying crush, yet another unscrupulous or incompetent consumer group, so the so-called “GoodGuide” out of San Francisco chose to launch an attack on a high-profile toy, the “Zhu Zhu Pet”, specifically “Mr. Squiggles”. The Zhu Zhu Pet product line is this year’s Must-Have Toy, a perfect target for selling papers and promoting fear. Mr. Squiggles’ “crime” was purportedly the presence of microscopic amounts of tin and antimony above the absurdly cautious CPSIA standards for those elements. GoodGuide (for purposes of this blogpost, let’s call them “MisleadingGuide”) cited Mr. Squiggles for having “elevated levels” of the elements in its hair and on its cute little nose. The offending levels: tin (I can’t find the data anywhere) and antimony, 93 ppm on the hair and 103 ppm on the nose. The federal limits under the CPSIA is 60 ppm.

The MisleadingGuide report was issued on Saturday Dec. 5, and to the CPSC’s credit, it acted promptly today by announcing its intention to swiftly investigate, and later (on the same day), cleared the toys. In response to the storm over its accusations, MisleadingGuide acknowledged that it used a XRF gun to test the surface and did not use the federal wet test methods. Oopsie-daisy! MisleadingGuide apparently regrets its error. Interestingly, the retraction/correction of MisleadingGuide is nowhere to be found on its review of Mr. Squiggles. The MisleadingGuide rating is also unchanged as are the misleading results that MisleadingGuide says it “regrets” but hasn’t gotten around to correcting. Notably, in the small print of one of its disclaimers, MisleadingGuide notes that much of its data comes from consumer group luminaries regularly heralded in this space such as HealthyToys.org and the ever-present Center for Environmental Health. Now that’s some fine company!

This very sorry and sickening episode is the latest instance of consumer group terrorism playing up to an easily panicked and understandably rattled American public. Using the imprimatur granted by their self-appointed role as protectors of public welfare, consumer groups nowadays shoot first and ask questions later. An unskeptical media republishes their garbage without comment, other than to whip up the flames of fear. The cost and the consequence is the random devastation of businesses for “crimes” that are very often imaginary. In this case, the tiny company responsible for this monster hit has only 16 employees. Not exactly a Mattel with a large in-house legal department or the other resources of a mega-company accustomed to being kneecapped by Naderites. A real U.S. success story – brought low by consumer group incompetence and irresponsibility. As everyone knows, there is no recourse for these entrepreneurs as their franchise is damaged mid-Christmas selling season. Dreams dashed, and the consumer groups hardly even blink. Of course, MisleadingGuide does “regret” its error. A bit of cold comfort for the 16 employees at Cepia as they examine the lumps of coal in their Xmas stockings.

Part of the consumer group M.O. is to stoke fear by tossing around figures that no one understands. In this case, they chose some new, unfamiliar elements to create the illusion of irresponsibility by a toy company. Tin? Antimony? I thought the culprits these days were lead and phthalates? No, when those items fade, new threats are manufactured to spread fear and distrust. I should point out that MisleadingGuide is arguing about being 33 and 43 PARTS PER MILLION over the new federal limit.

Tin and antimony are not radioactive, these ultra-amounts are basically undetectable. There is no indication anywhere that exposure to an incremental amount of these elements at this level would be dangerous. However, the new standard is misleadingly portrayed by these unscrupulous or unsophisticated consumer groups as a human health exposure limit, reasoning that anything above the limit is a sign of DANGER. The press is all too willing to make their claims seem legitimate: “Tests in animals have attributed a series of ailments large-scale consumption of antimony, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease says. Yet the DHHS also says it does not ‘know what other health effects would occur to people who swallow antimony.’” Ah, the seeds of doubt! Notably, unless you gorge on Zhu Zhu Pets regularly, large-scale consumption of antimony is irrelevant in this case. This kind of reporting hands a “win” to the consumer groups. The losers outnumber the winners by a wide margin.

I think there are many damaged parties in this pathetic episode. Let me list them:

  • You. The American consumer loses EVERY TIME as confidence in our neighbors and in our stream of commerce is nicked again and again by nincompoops who spread salacious gossip and commercial slander without a full and thoughtful investigation.
  • Science. The abuse of science will eventually lead to a mistrust of science. Science misused for the purposes of raising contributions or gathering proceeds from fines or contingent legal fees discredits it as a source of understanding of our world. Our country will lose out to countries not as obsessed with small-minded paranoia.
  • Specialty Markets and Small Business Interests. What kind of crazies want to do business in this environment where consumer group terrorists rule the planet? Business people read these articles and feel an injury to themselves. We all know we could be next. It’s random and unpredictable, since junk science can be deployed anywhere and anytime by the evil tandem of an unquestioning press and unscrupulous consumer advocates.
  • Our National Competitiveness. By allowing consumer groups to pick innocent victims without recourse for the tortious devastation they cause, the incentive to innovate or even trade is sharply curtailed. Businesses seek exits, not growth – some jobs program, huh? The costs imposed on healthy businesses to stay ahead of the maniacs will further cripple competitiveness. As a nation, we will gradually sink into an abyss of irrelevance.

How long must we tolerate consumer group terrorists? I think it’s time for Congress to create a new cause of action against this kind of irresponsible behavior. Someone needs to be accountable for the spreading of misinformation, damaging innocent and honest American businesses trying to create jobs and provide needed products and services to American families and schools. The torts of the consumer group creeps need a remedy. Let’s turn the tables on these fronts for plaintiff’s attorneys and take back our country.

Read more here:
CPSIA – CPSC Clears Zhu Zhu Pets . . . But The Damage Can’t Be Repaired

CPSIA – The TIA Just Wants to HELP You!

FULL DISCLOSURE:
  • Our companies are members of the Toy Industry Association (TIA).
  • We are on the record as opposing the Toy Safety Certification Program (TSCP).
  • The dues of TIA members paid (and continue to pay) for the development of the TSCP, as well as the salaries and bonuses of the representatives mentioned below.
  • The “15 month rule” will soon be released by the CPSC (on or before November 14). It will address, among other things, testing frequency and sample sizes for testing, and is expected to include the so-called component testing rule.

Did any of you watch the lengthy TSCP hearing (video link and text link) at the CPSC on October 14? This hearing was apparently jointly requested by the TIA, Consumers Union (CU) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA). Interesting bedfellows, huh? This hearing provided much to reflect upon. In this post, I will address the issues presented by the TIA’s program and the TIA’s authorship from a small business perspective. I will return to the consumer groups later.

[Some of my readers may be from outside the toy industry and may think "This does not apply to me!" Please bear with me and read on. This may not be your problem TODAY, but it is a sign of things to come.]

TSCP Basics:

The TSCP is a complicated initiative that is difficult to explain succinctly. Here is the document defining the TSCP. You can access the TSCP website here. While I will attempt to summarize it here, you should rely instead on the definitive documents published by the TIA.

The TSCP is a program designed by the TIA to ensure that toy companies comply with law. As Elizabeth Borrelli (Executive Director, TSCP) puts it: “TSCP is a conformity assessment system. It is not a testing program but a comprehensive, effective and efficient system to verify that toy manufacturers have satisfied requirements of the CPSIA (and retailers) and that their toys confirm to applicable safety standards.” The TIA says that the TSCP is a “work in progress”.

The TSCP goes far beyond the requirements of the CPSIA. [The TIA acknowledged this repeatedly at the hearing. For instance, see the video at 134:30 and 149:30.] It is also a “voluntary” program, not a requirement of law. The TIA wants to foster broad acceptance of its initiative. They presented it to the CPSC for the agency’s endorsement. Carter Keithley, President of the TIA, called the need for CPSC support “absolutely crucial”. [Also, see the video at 135:15.] According to the TSCP specifications, the program includes: “1) hazard analysis andor risk assessment for toy product design, 2) factory process control audits and 3) production sample testing to validate that the factory is producing, at the time of sampling, toys that meet U.S. safety standards. These three elements will be verified or audited by accredited certification bodies.”

A few details about the TSCP:

  • Factory Ratings – There are three levels of factory compliance under the TSCP: Tier 3 (non-ISO 9001 factories), Tier 2 (ISO 9001 factories) and Tier 1 (ISO-9001 factories that have met unspecified additional criteria to be established by the TSCP). Mass market factories are highly likely to be Tier 1, and small fry factories are likely to be Tier 3 or Tier 2. The terms below, according to the TIA, are designed to provide an “incentive” for non-Tier 1 factories to raise their compliance to Tier 1 standards. [Too bad for you if you and your factory don't want to incur this expense.]
  • Hazard assessment – This pre-production analysis must prepared by or under the supervision of a responsible officer of the company on a product-by-product basis and must be attested to in writing. [Remember this.]
  • Testing Sample Sizes - Under 3′s: not less than 18 pieces; over 3′s: not less than 12 pieces; big or expensive items: not less than 3 pieces; under 1000 pieces sold per year: sample size TBD; minimum production run: 500-1000 pcs (whatever this means).
  • Sampling procedure – Tier 3 – need outsider to select all samples; Tier 2 – outsider picks samples randomly 4-6 times per year; Tier 1 – The factories select samples themselves.
  • Testing frequency – Tier 1: greater of once a year or every million pieces, plus one extra heavy metals test annually (Max – never more than four times a year); Tier 2: greater of twice-a-year or every 500,000 pcs. (Max – monthly); Tier 3: greater of quarterly or every 150,000 pcs. (Max – every other week). [You read that right.]
  • Security – Samples must have special seals to avoid “adulteration”

The TIA insists that the TSCP was designed with small business in mind, has been vetted by small business interests and has been applauded by small businesses.

What Happened at the Hearing:

The TIA spent a great deal of time explaining the terms of the TSCP. The consumer groups spent their time explaining why this program that goes far beyond the law ISN’T ENOUGH. The CPSC Commission asked a lot of questions and spent a bit too much energy (in my view) complimenting the TIA on their work. One Commissioner (Anne Northrup) pushed back with probing questions about TSCP economics and the intiative’s impact on small business (see the video at 78:49 for about 15 minutes and later at 146:35).

What Does the TSCP Mean for Small Business?

The TSCP, if adopted, would be catastrophic for small toy companies or companies making toys with factories catering to the specialty market (rather than the mass market). Although the TIA denies this point (explicitly), the TSCP significantly favors mass market companies in an almost shameless way. Consider, for instance, the cost of participation in the TSCP. Rick Locker, outside counsel to the TIA, talked about a cost of $65 per item to enter the program. [He noted that for this $65, toy companies "now have $2 million of technology available to them" (123:48). Hey, TIA Members, do you realize what Mr. Locker means? The website they created cost $2 million. That's some fancy website they built with your money.] Upon questioning by Ms. Northrup, none of the TIA spokespeople would admit or guess at the overall cost to participate in the program (84:00 – and check out Northrup’s reaction at 85:15).

What might those costs be? Well, we know it costs $65 per item simply to key the product into the website. Then there’s the cost of the rating of the factory. [The TIA insists that this cost will not be borne by importers but instead by the factory. See video at 150:50. Apparently, this overhead is not passed along to the factory's customers, unlike all other factory overhead.] What might this cost? The TIA provided no estimates. I believe the one-time cost of becoming ISO 9001 is estimated at tens of thousands of dollars from a “standing start”. Likewise, the comparable compliance process with ICTI-CARE (Toy industry Code of Conduct) ain’t cheap. Figure TSCP ratings to cost thousands, and possibly much more, depending on the actions required to make the transition to the new TSCP standards. Then there’s the cost of regular audits and re-certifications. Many of the new requirements will likely lead to on-going, incremental administrative expenses at the factories, suggesting that product costs will float upward on a go-forward basis under the TSCP.

Finally, the TSCP costs will include all the usual safety tests required for each participating item, plus additional testing and processes. I have previously posted typical safety test costs in this space. [Rick Locker cited a cost of $300 per phthalate test in his testimony, as a point of reference.] INCREDIBLY, by publishing the TSCP terms, the TIA has apparently conceded that safety testing might be necessary or desirable multiple times per year. Testing frequency has NEVER been regulated by the U.S. government previously but will be addressed by the “15 month rule” shortly. I believe the TIA’s actions here will provide cover for the CPSC to impose similar testing requirements, despite the obvious market interference. How easy will it be for me, as an industry participant, to argue against testing frequencies put forth by my own trade association? Surely they are looking out for my best interests and would only suggest what’s reasonable and necessary – RIGHT?! Ummm, let me get back to you on that . . . .

Taking all of the above into account, I personally think the per-item cost to “pass” TSCP will be in the many thousands of dollars per item per year. For illustration purposes, however, I think we can confidently use a cost of $5,000 per item (all-in, blended). [Yes, I am predicting a blended cost of $5,000 per item to get this coveted certificate. Quite affordable . . . .]

How would a $5,000 TSCP cost affect you versus Big Toy? To answer this question, we must make some reasonable assumptions. For Big Toy, I am going to assume annual production of 1 million units of a hypothetical toy at a Tier 1 factory. For you, I am going to assume production runs of various sizes, all at a Tier 3 factory (which means you must test each time you produce, since you are unlikely to produce more often than twice-a-month!). For both you and Big Toy, I am going to assume a FOB factory cost of $5.00 per unit.

Here are the numbers:

Big Toy:

  • COGS: $5.00
  • TSCP: $5,000
  • Production Size: 1,000,000 per run (or per year, doesn’t matter under Tier 1 rules)
  • Cost per unit for testing: $5,000 divided by 1,000,000 ($.005, rounded to one penny)
  • New blended cost, including testing: $5.01, or a cost increase of 0.1% – NOT BAD FOR BIG TOY!

You:

  • COGS: $5.00
  • TSCP: $5,000
  • Production Size: Various run sizes illustrated below (as a Tier 3 factory, you will test each lot)
  • Cost per unit for testing: 1,000 pcs – $5.00 per unit; 2500 pcs – $2.00 per unit; 5,000 pcs – $1.00 per unit; 25,000 pcs – $.20 per unit
  • New blended cost, including testing: 1,000 pcs – $10.00 (a cost increase of 100%); 2,500 pcs – $7.00 per unit (40% increase), 5,000 pcs – $6.00 (20% increase); 25,000 pcs – $5.20 per unit (4% increase).

Call me crazy, but I think this is rather favorable to Big Toy. Let’s see, a cost increase of 0.1% versus a cost increase of 4-100%, which is better? Notably, for importers that sell to dealers, these cost increases are MULTIPLIED at retail, only compounding the competitive problem. The TSCP-induced gulf between specialty and mass markets costs will massacre specialty market toys. MASSACRE.

There is simply NO WAY that this program was vetted in any meaningful way by small business. If you were one of the small business reviewers, please announce yourself to my readers by commenting on this post (with name, email and phone number). Let’s have a debate!

There are other factors here that favor Big Toy, such as TSCP sampling methods and sample sizes which will punish small toy companies in more than one way, and TSCP’s required full traceability of components (also found in the RILA-BRC standards).

Even the liability risks under the TSCP favor Big Toy which can afford to provide expensive lawyers to back-up company officers. Notably, the TSCP requires a written personal attestation by a senior company officer of the TSCP product hazard assessment. Do you want to sign this little piece of paper and take on some serious personal liability? If that sounds really good to you, please consider the remarks of Chuck Rogers, Senior Technical Director for the TSCP, at the hearing (139:28): “. . . under CPSIA, when that company official signs that attestation, and it becomes part of what is required to get a safety mark [under the TSCP], I can tell you company officials I have talked to take that very, very seriously and they’re going to be extremely cautious and prudent before they sign that. AND IF SOMEONE DOES SIGN AN IMPROPER ATTESTATION, AND THAT PRODUCT IS LATER FOUND TO HAVE A SIGNIFICANT DEFECT, YOU KNOW, IT WOULD BE WITHIN THE COMMISSION’S PURVIEW, I SUSPECT, TO ASK FOR THAT ATTESTATION.” [Emphasis added.] So, in other words, the TIA is trying to sell this program to the CPSC as a source of evidence to be used against its members and its industry. Love it! Where do I sign up?

A Few More Hearing Highlights:

- Ms. Tenenbaum asked about counterfeit certificates. The continuing interest of the CPSC in the “switcheroo” and other nefarious acts mystifies me. What is the basis for treating me and all other members of our industry as scumbag cheaters? Why is this kind of question even posed? Of course, the TIA only feeds these suspicions by specifying tamper-proof seals on samples. Why would such a thing be necessary, other than a conviction that toy companies are such creeps that consumers and the government can’t only trust them? How often does this kind of fraud happen, and if the CPSC knows about it, why haven’t they acted decisively against the bad guys? Your guess is as good as mine.

- The hearing featured several TIA assertions that small businesses will be so, so grateful for the TSCP. The most surreal sell job was by Chuck Rogers, who illustrated virtually every remark with anecdotes from his days at Sunbeam and Wal-Mart. Very relevant to this topic. . . . Rick Locker twice gave detailed explanations of how small businesses will save money with the TSCP (at 77:30 emphasizing reduced record keeping and at 87:50 emphasizing safety test cost savings). Mr. Locker seemed to confuse the cost of factory audits with the cost of safety tests under the CPSIA – he used an example of 20 customers requiring 20 different tests, thereby multipying testing costs 20x. This scenario makes no sense to me since only certain specific safety tests are required to comply with the CPSA, as amended. You don’t need a different safety test report for each customer – but you might need a different audit report for each mass market customer. Factory audits, notably, are a mass market phenomena, and typically confront small businesses only when dealing with mass market customers.

- The TSCP is good news for you, according to Elizabeth Borrelli (90:40): “If [the TSCP] was significantly additive [to costs], then our membership and our Board wouldn’t support us moving forward with it, frankly.” Feel better yet?

Final Thoughts:

The astounding TSCP initiative crafted by the TIA is a BUSINESS. The TIA, in proposing it, is going into business in competition with certain of its members. This move is troubling for a trade association. In addition, the TSCP adds significantly to the burden of the already excessively burdensome CPSIA. To promote this change to a regulator seemingly predisposed to treat our industry harshly is reckless and shortsighted. It is known, however, that certain toy companies are already planning to take these compliance steps and more. [In response to a question by Commissioner Adler, Hasbro's representative at the hearing confirmed that Hasbro will exceed the TSCP requirements.] Was the TIA acting with the notion that what’s good for Big Toy is good for everyone else? Amazingly, this disruptive program is clearly favorable to only a small handful of TIA members and seemingly disadvantageous to a far larger number of toy companies. [I don't put much stock in the hand waving by TIA representatives at the hearing - show me the detailed analysis proving that this initiative saves money for any small business.] Given the heavy presence of mass market companies behind the development of this program, the mass market benefits and focus come as no surprise (to me).

It is worth noting one more full disclosure item: Earlier this year, I asked the TIA to help defray our advocacy expenses in opposition to the CPSIA. Despite their massive lobbying budget, they turned me down for several reasons. In a remarkable phone call, they explained to me that, among other things, (a) the TIA would not contribute to the expenses of the Alliance for Children’s Product Safety unless I would allow them to exercise control over its activities, and (b) they believe the law would never be changed and preferred to channel the TIA’s “limited” resources into efforts to live with the law. [There is obviously a gulf between my views and theirs.] In any event, whether it is cause or effect, the TSCP seems to have attracted a multi-million dollar investment by the TIA and essentially it appears that the TIA burned the bridges behind it – promoting the TSCP now is a primary focus of the TIA.

For those TIA members who have gotten this far in this long post, you may want to ask a few questions of TIA officers and board members.

Read more here:
CPSIA – The TIA Just Wants to HELP You!

Rally Clip: Rob Wilson, Challenge & Fun Inc.

April 10, 2009 by Dana  
Filed under Featured Articles

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