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Made in China label puts products in the hot seat

It''s tough to find products on store shelves today that aren''t made in China. Everything it seems, from toys to household appliances to consumer electronics carries the label noting the country of origin: Made in China.

But might you be risking your family''s health and safety when you purchase these products, even if it has a well-known U.S. corporation''s name on the box?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) seems to think so. Citing Chinese-made products as the "largest foreign source of unsafe consumer products to the United States," the CPSC has made public a detailed plan to monitor more closely the compliance of consumer goods imported from that country to the U.S. Look at the Web site of the CPSC and you''ll see long lists of products recalled for a whole host of reasons. But primarily it boils down to the fact that they don''t meet the federal standards for health and safety.

Here''s a small sampling

In July of last year, Graco Children''s Products Inc. (Exton, PA) recalled 1.1 million Chinese-made strollers carrying the Dual Tandem and MetroLite brand names. The strollers were recalled because they failed to latch properly and collapsed while in use.

Child bicycle helmets-494,0000 of them-being sold at Target stores were recalled on Aug. 31 of last year because they didn''t meet the CPSC''s safety standards and testing for impact resistance. The helmets were manufactured by UNA International Ltd. of China and distributed by Dnyacraft BSC Inc. of San Rafael, CA.

In June of this year, Whirlpool Corp. (Benton Harbor, MI) recalled 529,000 of its KitchenAid coffeemakers. An internal electrical component of the coffeemaker was prone to over-heating and igniting the unit posing a fire hazard. Fires in small-household appliances are a major problem, particularly for those made in China. Robert Polk testified on June 17, 2003 at a Consumer Affairs & Product Safety Hearing. Polk, a retired fire chief and Consumer Product Safety Taskforce Chairman at the time, asked regulators to toughen regulations on the hundreds of thousand of imported products-many of them from China-that don''t meet U.S. standards. Polk noted in his testimony that some 20,000 fires annually involve faulty electrical household appliances that are labeled as UL rated-but in fact are not, resulting in 100 deaths and 730 serious injuries each year.

Chinese-made products account for a disproportionatly high percentage of U.S. recalls. In fact, 63% of the imported products recalled by the CPSC last year were from China, up from 41% five years ago, according to the CPSC.

Is manufacturing in China so cost-effective that companies can afford the cost of a recall and the loss of reputation? The CPSC goes after the U.S. company because they are within its scope of jurisdiction. Mariann Butch, a consultant with the firm Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP (Columbus, OH), says that "the [CPSC] holds the entity in the U.S. responsbile because they can get their hands on them."

In March of 2005, the CPSC announced a provisional settlement with Graco, one of the nation''s largest children''s product manufacturers, for one of the largest civil penalties in CPSC history: $4 million. Graco, a business unit of Newell Rubbermaid, was fined for failing to inform the government in a timely manner about more than 12 million products that posed a danger to young children. The list of Graco products-most of them molded plastic products- included 1.2 million toddler beds, infant carriers, high chairs, infant swings and the 1.1 million strollers mentioned above.

Butch notes that new efforts by the CPSC to "promote compliance with all applicable U.S. standards" by Chinese manufacturers have resulted in an agreement signed on Aug. 30 calling for the two countries to share more information, the result of CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton''s recent visit to China seeking ways to improve product safety. "It may change some of the practices [of U.S. manufacturers] and manufacturing arrangements that you have with your China manufacturers," she says, but enforcement will be another issue.

The CPSC''s first step is to undertake a detailed comparison of the standards applicable to Chinese consumer products versus the equivalent U.S. product standards. "This comparison will involve not only the mandatory rules and practices but also the applicable voluntary standards," Butch writes in a recent article in BFC&A''s newsletter China Insights. "The purpose of the CPSC review is to target the manufacturers and importers by emphasizing the fact that the CPSC requires compliance with both mandatory and voluntary consumer product standards."

By creating this agreement, Butch says the "CPSC hopes to reduce product recalls by educating Chinese manufacturers and importers on the fact that a failure to comply with a `voluntary'' standard can cause a product to be deemed defective in a manner that creates a substantial product hazard resulting in a product recall."

Clare Goldsberry [email protected]

TAGS: Business
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