The Ugly Side of Product Safety

— January 08, 2009

The holiday season should be a time for family and reflection -not heartburn. Many in the apparel and footwear industries though, are having trouble focusing on the merriment as they watch retail sales with bated breath and scramble to comply with new federal product safety regulations and retailer mandates that are coming into effect shortly. Still others are painfully ignorant of the peril ahead, not realizing that the mainstream media reports about new children's toy laws are also applicable to footwear and apparel.

Thousands of businesses, especially children's wear businesses and smaller companies, are being threatened by the burdensome requirements created by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008. The law establishes new product safety and testing guidelines predominantly for children's products and certification of compliance for all products. The new multifaceted regulations that footwear and apparel companies must meet cover everything from new lead and phthalate standards to required certification and testing by accredited third-party laboratories to ensure compliance with these new standards.

New CPSIA regulations banning phthalates (a chemical used to soften plastics) in certain toys and childcare articles take effect for products made on or after February 10, 2009. For children's products containing lead in accessible components, the rules also start on February 10, but cover anything already produced and already on the retail shelves. The apparel and footwear industries, along with all other consumer product industries, are trying to make the impossible work -to find a feasible way to test product that was legally produced and sold to retailers, but will no longer be legal in February without certified test results from a third-party lab. If they do this, then the inventory will be banned and any product on retailer shelves will have to be pulled off and destroyed.

This is a nightmare scenario, and it gets worse. Retailers, in a move to ensure that all of their inventory is in compliance by the implementation deadline, are creating new, stricter standards than the federal law with earlier effective dates -some started on January 1, 2009.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association, along with others, is working hard to convince Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission that the law does not account for standard operating procedures and the supply chain. AAFA is fighting for a pragmatic timeline and a risk-based testing program. However, Congress needs to hear from you as employees, as consumers and as constituents.
AAFA has set up a website to make it easy to email your members of Congress about the onerous, unintended consequences of this law. Please take action today. Email or call your members of Congress before it is too late.

These are challenging times. An association membership is more important than ever to ensure you stay current with the changing product safety regulations and other issues. To make certain you stay ahead of these fast-evolving issues, join AAFA's Product Safety Council today. To learn how you can get involved and protect your business, members should contact AAFA's Rebecca Mond, rmond@apparelandfootwear.org or  703-797-9038 , and non-members should contact AAFA's Maureen Storch, mstorch@apparelandfootwear.org or  703-797-9047 .

Kevin M. Burke is president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).

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