Spain Presidency Meeting on Consumer Safety - Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 10, 2010

Good morning. Minister Jimenez and Director General Andreu thank you for the invitation to visit your country and join this distinguished gathering of product safety advocates. It is a pleasure to be here at today's meeting on this beautiful island of Mallorca.

 

As a lifelong advocate for the well being of children, I was honored to have been asked by President Obama to lead this vital agency. We at CPSC are driven by our meaningful mission - a mission that is in line with what everyone here today is working to accomplish.

 

Success for all of us is measured in lives saved and injuries prevented from dangerous products. Though, success for all of us can only be achieved if our vision stretches beyond the United States and beyond Europe.

 

Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan once stated, "We must ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world's people share the benefits of globalization."

 

He added, "We have to choose between a global market driven only by calculations of short-term profit, and one which has a human face."

 

The philosophy espoused by Secretary Annan is what brings me to Mallorca - and has also taken me to Singapore, Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Hanoi. I believe we must put a human face on those who are building global markets, those who are regulating them, and those who are consumers of its products.

 

The more familiar we are with each other's intentions, the greater the possibilities to harmonize those intentions. The more familiar our industries are with rules they must follow, the more likely they are to follow those rules.

 

At the heart of our shared values as regulators is ensuring that our youngest consumers are not exposed to dangerous products. The vision for us to rally around in the 21st century is enhancing the safety for children's products - from design to production, from export to import, from purchase to use.

 

For CPSC, our commitment to building strong safeguards in the global marketplace for children's products comes from the agency's experiences in 2007 and 2008.

 

The media headlines from back then - before I became Chairman - were about waves of popular toys being recalled because of lead paint violations and dangerous magnets falling out, children's metal jewelry recalled because of high lead content, and millions of cribs recalled because of deadly entrapment hazards. And as we all know, products from China were at the center of that storm.

 

Those recalls, some of which you may have dealt also, resulted from manufacturing defects, failures in the supply chain, and a failure to comply with safety requirements.

 

You may ask, what has changed at CPSC? The answer is two-fold: the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and a change in regulatory philosophy.

 

A new U.S. federal law and a new approach to standards and enforcement have created a paradigm change in manufacturing and distribution, resulting in positive changes for consumers.

 

Before delving deep into these topics, I would like to share some data with you. Although consumers became upset with certain Chinese manufacturers, they did not turn away from their products. In fact, imports of Chinese products have increased in the United States in recent years.

 

Since there are no signs of a slow-down in consumption of foreign made goods in either the United States or Europe, there is a great need for global leadership to ensure that exporting countries understand their impact on the consumer.

 

I am dealing with this issue right now with China and the drywall that they exported to the United States that were used to build many homes. The drywall emits hydrogen sulfide which is contributing to people feeling ill and it is corroding the appliances and wiring in their home.

 

I have told the Chinese government and the manufacturers that they should do what is fair and just to address the serious problems they have caused for American families.

 

I believe that it is vital for there to be cooperation and collaboration among consuming countries and manufacturing nations, like China.

 

If we accept these shared responsibilities it can certainly lead to shared benefits - both bilaterally and multilaterally.

 

As part of this pursuit, I believe that more effort needs to go into getting supplier countries to meet the high performance standards and best manufacturing practices that have long been used in the United States and European nations.

 

The changing nature of communications is another way in which we at CPSC see an opportunity to make a positive impact on global suppliers and producers.

 

At CPSC we have translated our manufacturing handbook into Chinese, translated safety information into Chinese and Vietnamese, sponsored online training with simultaneous translation, and attracted followers from all over the world to our Twitter account and safety blog.

 

The speed and distance with which our information travels can have a real time benefit to consumers in other nations. For example, when we recalled one million Maclaren strollers (or baby buggies as they are called over here) due to a finger amputation hazard, we triggered talk on the Internet and in traditional European media about whether a recall was needed over here. And sure enough the answer was yes, and Maclaren eventually expanded its recall to Europe.

 

This paradigm change in communications has led us into new areas. We are now carrying out joint recalls with Health Canada and we are exploring opportunities to conduct trilateral recalls that include the European Union.

 

I would now like to focus in on CPSC's vision for creating a safer consumer marketplace in the United States, which can also benefit consumers in Europe.

 

At CPSC, we have a three-pronged approach: first is prevention, second is detection, and third is corrective action. Because I believe in the benefits of prevention, I have become a strong proponent of strong safety standards. Whether they be voluntary consensus standards or mandatory standards - and we have both in the United States - if the standard is robust, addresses foreseeable hazards, and is adhered to by affected companies, the consumer will benefit.

 

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act has created a new dynamic in our country when it comes to standards. The CPSIA mandated that the longtime voluntary standards for toys and juvenile products be made mandatory by my agency.

 

The toy standard became mandatory back in February of 2009, and this year we have made the standards for baby bath seats and baby walkers into mandatory rules. There are many more juvenile products, like bassinets and infant swings, which we will be working on new rules for over the next few years.

 

The most high profile product for which we will be creating a mandatory rule is cribs. Cribs, especially those with dangerous and defective drop sides - a drop side is intended to help a parent have an easier time putting the baby in or taking the baby out of the crib - have resulted in many deaths - too many deaths.

 

We are aware of thirty-two deaths over nine years and there have been seven million units recalled over five years. This is one of my highest priorities and to truly achieve prevention and achieve a safe sleep for babies, we will have a new federal crib safety standard this year!

 

There are other ways in which we are promoting prevention that deal directly with China. During my visits to Asia, I have strongly advocated for best manufacturing practices and building safety into the design of the product. Preproduction design analysis is a concept that is building momentum as a pathway to ensuring that manufacturers achieve the highest levels of quality.

 

As we have implemented the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, CPSC has pushed for safety to be taken into account farther and farther up the supply chain. The safer the raw materials are, the safer the product will be. The more there is quality control in assembling products from multiple suppliers, the safer the product will be.

 

In fact, at CPSC we have a proposed federal rule that would allow for component parts to be tested and certified. This way a small business in the United States or elsewhere that is using different component parts could have less of a testing burden on their final products, if those parts have been tested upstream.

 

Independent testing and certification of children's products is one of the most important requirements in the CPSIA and it is one of the most important tools we are now applying to prevent harm to children.

 

There are now hundreds of laboratories who have been approved by CPSC as being accredited to conduct independent testing of

 

children's jewelry,

 

cribs,

 

small parts on toys,

 

lead paint,

 

bicycles,

 

bicycle helmets, and

 

pacifiers.

 

Having safeguards in place for children is key to prevention. And having a product tested and certified to a strong standard is an approach that will give parents confidence that safeguards are in place for their child.

 

I would be remiss if I did not also touch upon an approach that supports prevention that is near and dear to me, and that is education and outreach. I believe education complements all of the efforts I've described so far.

 

If companies and our foreign government partners do not know what the new rules are for exporting products to the United States, or they are unaware of best manufacturing processes, then we will continue to have instances of defective and possibly dangerous children's products rolling off assembly lines.

 

My experience in working with our counterpart agency in China, AQSIQ, and working with industry associations, is that when they understand the rules and have predictability in what our agency expects of them, the results are often positive.

 

Next, I would like to focus on detection. We at CPSC are strengthening our presence and detection tools at various U.S. ports. We have full time staff co-located at some of the biggest ports, working alongside inspectors with the Department of Homeland Security.

 

In April, we obtained access to a special database that will allow CPSC staff to view information about shipments as they are travelling across the ocean, instead of having to wait until they come to port. This will allow us to be even more effective and even more targeted in what we stop, sample, and detect for safety violations.

 

CPSC does have the power to destroy or turn back noncompliant products that we find at the ports and we recently turned away a shipment of children's metal jewelry that had high levels of cadmium.

 

Additionally, CPSC has a well established program of conducting market surveillance. Many of the recalls that we announce each year are due to our own investigators finding dangerous or noncompliant products lurking on store shelves.

 

There is an effort underway to do more joint market surveillance with other countries and jurisdictions. I encourage this sort of collaboration. Let's pursue as many approaches as possible for consumers in North American and Europe to be protected, by coordinating the resources and insights of our respective regulatory bodies.

 

Now, if a product is not made to the highest standards, slips through our ports, makes its way onto a store shelf, and into the hands of child, then the third prong of our approach would be applied: corrective action.

 

Announcements of recalls are a near daily occurrence for CPSC, and a look at RAPEX shows that is the same in Europe.

 

Recalls are an important part of our work at CPSC to rid homes of dangerous products, but I believe consumers want to see fewer recalls. Not because we aren't catching dangerous products, but because manufacturers are producing and retailers are selling products that meet higher standards and have been tested.

 

As I mentioned earlier, we have conducted more than twenty joint recalls with Health Canada, and we are ready to include Europe if a future recall provides such an opportunity.

 

Some of the recalls we carry out involve companies that failed to report to our agency in a timely manner, as they obligated to do under U.S. law. In those cases we pursue is a civil penalty.

 

We have levied penalties in the past year against companies that failed to tell us about dangerous drawstrings being in children's outwear, lead paint violations on toys, and fans that could start a fire.

 

We are so serious these days about enforcement that we went above and beyond a fine with one particular company that was a repeat offender.

 

After levying a $2 million fine against a US importer named Daiso, we completely stopped the company from importing children's products into the country until the company hires a safety professional and proves to us that it knows our laws and is in compliance with our laws.

 

So as you can see, at CPSC we have a comprehensive and strategic plan to build safeguards to protect the consumer and rebuild the confidence of the consumer.

 

To build upon the efforts we are taking within the United States, I would like to talk for a few minutes about harmonization with the EC on standards. At the staff level, there is a very good level of discussion on:

 

lead and cadmium testing procedures,

 

elimination of window blind cords that strangle toddlers all over the world,

 

toxicity of chemicals such as phthalates and their potential substitutes,

 

products containing nanomaterials,

 

paper in children's books, and

 

durable children's products.

 

As the outcomes of these discussions find their way into regulations, directives, and standards in our jurisdictions, consumers will benefit not only from a high level of product safety, but a reduced risk of error by manufacturers exporting to both of our markets. But I think we can and should be more ambitious in our cooperation.

 

Since we operate in a global market, we need to broaden our conversations about specific products to include other regulators from around the world.

 

Within the next twelve months, I would like to take the intensity of collaboration on product safety requirements up a notch or two, by proposing a focused international regulators meeting to deal with harmonization in a few, key, priority products.

 

I would see children's products such as those now under review at CPSC as good candidates for that short list. I cannot imagine such a meeting being successful without the partnership of our European colleagues, so I would like to encourage our friends at the European Commission to work with us in planning for an international meeting such as I have described.

 

Meetings like yours today help our countries share experiences - good and bad - and find areas where we can speak with one voice:

 

A common vision of having products designed to the highest standards, tested by certified laboratories, and not cause injuries.

 

A common commitment to the safety and well being of those we serve.

 

These are the foundational principles that bring us together today. I look forward to meeting all of you personally throughout the day and continuing our dialogue.

 

Thank you so much.