Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CPSIA - Where is Everyone (on Jewelry)?

Perhaps it has occurred to you that it is a little odd that I am writing about jewels. I don't wear jewelry personally and we don't make or sell jewelry in our business. So where are all the people who are principally concerned with selling these now-illegal stones? Good question - they are hiding. The decision to confirm the illegality of the stones essentially shuts off debate because you essentially invite the regulators into your (business) home by expressing interest in the topic. Thus the silence . . . .

This is nothing new. I was the only businessperson to speak out on lead at the November 6 CPSC Lead Panel and likewise was the only operating company to address the CPSC at the May 12 Tracking Labels panel. In fact, three other companies scheduled to speak were "no shows". They didn't even enter the building. When we had our April 1 Rally in Washington, one of our speakers dropped out when we asked him to disclose information he wanted to keep very close to the vest, namely . . . his last name and his company's name. When he heard we needed to know this (to introduce him), he disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Why are people so afraid? Well, several companies that turned themselves in for lead-in-paint violations were recently hit with penalties. There's a strong message in that for everyone - your good faith cooperation will be punished the same as bad behavior. The regulators' apparent logic is simple - to violate the law is "bad" and must be strongly discouraged (this is what Congress "wants" . . .), thus there is little difference between turning yourself in and getting caught, each is "bad" and needs punishment. If you are sitting on product that is suddenly illegal (contraband), do you want the regulators (or worse yet, your customers) to know it? This question needs no answer.

Normally, when there is a "debate" and one side doesn't show up, it is assumed that they are disinterested, have nothing to say, are conceding the debate for some reason or some such. There's always a story to explain the silence. The story here is simple - speak up at your own risk. And no one is willing, big surprise.

The CPSC seems to think it is fostering a debate. But with a law on the books that makes everything illegal, debate is impossible. In addition, since the law is based on strict liability (the standards are absolute and have no flexibility to address minimal risks or needless economic damage), the most pertinent arguments are off the table. Ms. Tenenbaum herself correctly points out that safety considerations are not relevant in the Section 101(b) test for exemptions. What can you say to defend the decorative stones other than that the economic damage to your company and industry will be severe? Is it worth taking the risk of exposing yourself to make such a losing argument? No way.

The non-debates give the misleading impression that support for the law and its "common sense" implementation is widespread and unopposed except for a few cranks like me. I beg to differ. Our freedom of speech is wasted when our laws punish free debate by free people. Someone, somewhere, should be really upset about this degradation in the conduct of our society.


Esther said...

You are right. Where is everybody? The jewelry ruling also applies to bling on clothes and right now we have to figure out what that means for existing inventory. We are busy trying to comply with all the CPSIA rules and fast approaching deadlines. The rest of us are just plain out of business.

Anonymous said...

This isn't uncommon. When I try to talk to the folks at the local independent toy store they won't say anything and just chuckle a little bit.

I don't understand that attitude. Our Representative died suddenly and we have a new Rep who, obviously, didn't vote on the CPSIA and should be open to changing the law based on the new information available.

A good number of laypeople are informed here but it's quiet. They know who they won't be voting for next election round but there are so many environmental hacks in the area I think many are nervous about speaking out.