Do you think of yourself as a customer of Mattel or a customer of your local toy store? Its a good question, first posed by Brian White over at BloggingStocks.com. I’m guessing you think of yourself as the store’s customer.
That’s why retailers—the last leg in the supply chain that brought lead painted toys into American homes—must also be the last stop for safety and enforcement.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission rarely holds retailers accountable for the sale of dangerous products. According to the advocacy group only a handful of states (Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Arkansas, Louisiana, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Vermont) completely ban the resale of recalled items or their continued use in licensed childcare facilities. Only Illinois mandates that retailers clearly notify the public of recalls. Illinois law outlines guidelines for brick and mortar, Internet and resellers of children’s products. Most states have no such laws.
After the highly publicized recalls of popular toys, the nation’s largest retailers have stepped up independent testing programs to examine the products they sell. This is a good idea that needs to be made a regular practice. Even if manufacturers begin to test products in their overseas plants before they ship, they won’t catch everything. Retailers need to spot test batches of the products they order then publicize the results. It’s the retailer’s reputation on the line too. And one large scale recall doesn’t end the story–other, similarly unsafe products may still be sitting in retail stores everywhere.
After a recall, we need to do more than simply post recall notices at the store level. Recall lists are surprisingly hard to use. Shoppers have a hard time telling if a particular product is the exact item on a recall list because serial numbers are hard to find and complicated to read. In a crowded store, with your children in tow, even clearly posted lists of recalled items could be unmanegable. Instead, retailers need to take responsibility for removing recalled items from their shelves. When a recall has been announced, the retailer should check to see if recalled items were already sold to its shoppers and then post a clear notice asking shoppers to bring the items back.
Last month, Consumers Union testified before along with Toys “R” Us Chairman Gerald Storch, who outlined the steps his company is taking. They are good first steps, but in order to make our retail markets safe these systems need to be incorporated into legislation and apply equally to everyone. Every shopper should have the same expectation of safety in any U.S. store.