dangerConsumer Reports, in an investigation available only to subscribers, describes the Bush administration’s evisceration of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the organization instituted to protect consumers from unsafe products from unscrupulous and negligent corporations. As part of the Bush agenda to deregulate all restrictions whatsoever on their big corporate friends, and hamstring consumers and citizens from fighting back, the budget of the CPSC has been held at $18 million per year, less than half what it was in the 1970s when it was formed. Not only has its budget and manpower been slashed (they now have only 470 staff responsible for inspecting 22,000 lines of products), but its authority has also been reduced, and the amount of assistance it gets from customs officials in detecting and reporting hazardous imports and exports has also been slashed. All it can do now is negotiate with suppliers of hazardous products, relying on them to voluntarily stop selling and recall such products. ‘Self-enforcement’, which, like similar Bush administration schemes really means ‘no enforcement’, is now the standard for hazardous products. Their manpower is only sufficient to check a tiny fraction of goods produced and imported.

Not surprisingly, the quantity of dangerous and hazardous goods on the market, being reported to Consumer Reports and other agencies by outraged consumers, mostly crap manufactured in China and other third world countries and mostly sold in discount stores, is skyrocketing. What’s worse, even when especially shoddy and dangerous goods are ‘voluntarily’ recalled for fear of litigation in the US resulting from user injury and death, this crap is simply resold, completely legally, to unsuspecting third world countries that have no consumer regulations or protections. 

And the CPSC also lacks transparency, says CR, with no public disclosure of over 11,000 recent citations of products for various safety violations, which, because the standards are voluntary, the cited companies are free to ignore.

Some examples from CR’s lengthy litany:

  • One third of all products they bought from discount outlets for investigation violated mandatory or voluntary safety standards.
  • Many of the toys sold in such outlets posed a choking hazard to small children, and/or sharp edges that could cut children.
  • Some products contained dangerous amounts of lead.
  • Some cheap batteries were leaking acid.
  • Counterfeit brands and falsified UL and other certifications are now a “mammoth illegal industry” according to an international anti-counterfeiting coalition.
  • Millions of dangerous and recalled products remain in consumers’ homes, due to lax enforcement and consumer notification processes.
  • The number of unsafe toys on the market has doubled in the last decade.
  • Many of the products sold in ‘party stores’ and Wal-Mart, including products for children’s parties, are extremely flammable, but as long as they are labelled “extremely flammable” and “use only with adult supervision” their sale is completely legal.
  • Half a billion disposable lighters are imported into the US each year, all of them subject only to voluntary standards, which are routinely ignored by Asian manufacturers. They’re illegal in Canada and Mexico, but the CPSC, citing only a few deaths and a few dozen fires and injuries directly attributed to these lighters, refuses to institute a similar ban in the US.
  • Many defective products do not identify the manufacturer or product origin.
  • One manufacturer, TGH International, was censured 16 times over eight years by CPSC for serious violations of mandatory regulations covering 111,000 toys it manufactured or distributed, but was never fined. Due to a cap on fines imposed by Congress, fines are not a deterrent. The largest fine was $750,000 against Wal-Mart for repeatedly failing to warn customers of known safety hazards of fitness equipment it sold, a fine amounting to 90 seconds’ worth of Wal-Mart revenues.
  • Re-exports to third-world countries of dangerous products deemed too risky to sell in the US due to product-liability lawsuits included: A million dangerous extension cords, 250,000 defective Christmas lights, 175,000 bunk beds that have repeatedly collapsed, a million ‘Zapper’ balloon toys with a demonstrated asphyxiation hazard, 7,500 flammable scarves, 1,000 flammable children’s bathrobes, 32,000 BCBG brand flammable sweaters, 1,000 banned cigarette lighter-switchblade combos, and tens of thousands of children’s toys with parts that would choke small children.

This epidemic of corporate negligence, which poses a direct threat to the health and safety of consumers and citizens worldwide, is a perfect illustration of what happens when the corporatist mantra of profit at any cost is unchecked. This is why we need government regulation, and why “deregulation” is not, as the corporatists would have you believe, the removal of red tape, but is in fact the removal of protections of public health and safety, and the removal of standards of ethical conduct. The re-export of known dangerous products, especially for children, to third world countries is heinous and contemptible behaviour. We should be ashamed that our governments openly condone it. Another legacy of untrammelled ‘free’ trade, and the lack of checks on greedy, disgraceful corporatist conduct.

The warning in the illustration above is from an actual product label.

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  1. I have a coworker who used to work for a large industrial manufacturer. He recounts being on a team that was assigned the task of tearing apart a product to look for defects after a child was killed using it. He describes the mood of the design team: simultaneously extremely dedicated to finding out the cause of the accident, coupled with the horror at the possibility that the product WAS at fault. Lucky for them, it was not at fault, it was a freak accident, although they swiftly introduced changes against the infitesimal possiblity of the same thing happening – they had to, for legal reasons, let alone moral ones. But everybody on the team was fully aware and horrified at the supreme responsibility. This makes me wonder just WHO is doing this shoddy designing and manufacturing? Who in this world WOULD feel comfortable selling defective products, then? Are they not human beings, capable of any sort of human feeling, responsibility, anything? I just don’t understand how this can happen, and keep happening. I do believe it’s happening, but for all that I’m a cynic I simply don’t understand how it has gotten so bad.

  2. gbreez says:

    If, as Dave says, many of the defective articles and products are from China and 3rd world countries where life is so cheap that people poison themselves burning plastic coating from wire and old computer parts to earn pennies in order to survive, do you really think they are concerned about other people’s children in a far away land? As to how things have gotten this bad, that is easy; we let it. In our constant passion and drive to save a buck, to go for cheaper and cheaper (rather than quality), and our willful tendency to push away all knowledge of bad-doings in our world, governmental, corporate, military, we brought it all to pass. We have only ourselves to blame. But, perhaps it is not too late, if everyone wakes up and DOES SOMETHING.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Renee: I blame size and impersonality. One of the benefits of buying local is that the vendor sells you crap at their peril (my wife bought a bunch of peaches from a local market last month, only to find out they’s been accidentally frozen and were so badly damaged that they couldn’t even be used for jam — she got a replacement batch no questions asked). But when the people making the stuff and wholesaling the stuff never see the buyers, that’s when they start to shrug at unethical activities. GB: Maybe I’m naive, but I’d bet if the people on the factory floor in China knew that children in America were choking to death or burning to death because of stuff they were making, they’d care a lot. But you’re right about the answer: As long as we put up with it, it will go on.

  4. Life Tenant says:

    If people are clever, industrious and virtuous enough to earn a high income or be born to well-off parents, and if the government doesn’t confiscate their well-deserved earnings or inheritance through taxation, then they can afford to protect their children and show their love by buying more expensive toys that are less likely to be defective, or perhaps can hire experts to recommend toys for them. People who don’t have enough money to do that will be more likely to have crippled or disfigured children. It’s a matter of personal responsibility. Also, before liberals broke down the nuclear family by encouraging women to leave the home and join the work force, children were under such constant supervision that they never had a chance to put toys in their mouths, so the lead content didn’t matter, so the whole problem is the liberals’ fault, and an excuse to smother hard-working small businesses like Walmart with punitive fines and endless red tape. Anyway Consumer Reports is biased because they depend on financial payments from consumers and do not balance consumer viewpoints with information provided by the manufacturers who clearly are in the best position to know the characteristics of their own products.

  5. Hahahah. That’s superb satire, Subdued citizen. Some people really think that way, though…

  6. G Leary says:

    I found this whole line of reasoning a bit odd. Could you not choose NOT to buy products you felt were unsafe? I’ll tell you this, I am not buying toothpaste made in China. Do you?And who do you think it is working in these corporations? They must be manned solely with people from another planet. Certainly, they are not manned by the people who are buying the products, right? They must be some other group of Americans who live and shop elsewhere.The real fools are dupes who think that a) the government is competent at knowing what is safe or unsafe (think aluminum electrical wiring) and b) that if a corporation screws up it must be a sign of greed or negligence, because corporations are perfect in their knowledge and wisdom.Did it ever occur to any of you that the people you are trusting are just not as smart as you think they are? There really is a need for you to be careful in your own choices, and research products that may pose a hazard. For example, before my wife and I bought a car seat for our son, we researched the major brands, and looked at the performance of various seats. There was no consensus as to which was the safest. So we used our own judgement.I’ll at least say this much: thank god for Consumer Reports. I turn to them to determine safety, not regulators OR corporations.

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