Saturday, November 28, 2009

CPSIA - Interesting Admissions by Mattel

In a November 9 Product Safety Letter article, Mattel spokesmen were quoted bemoaning the burdens and confusion of the CPSIA.

In Mattel's public meeting with Commissioner Bob Adler, Mattel sounded bedraggled and overwhelmed by the new law:

"Peter Biersteker, a lawyer for Mattel with the law firm Jones Day in Washington D.C., said his client is finding the CPSIA difficult to decipher. The law, he said, is unclear on what products the company needs to test, how often it needs to test them, and how many samples need to be tested. 'It's a lot of work. I don't know how smaller companies do it,' Biersteker told Commissioner Robert Adler. Despite Mattel's large team of in-house lawyers, he said, the company needed to hire outside lawyers to help understand the CPSIA. He said Mattel holds weekly conference calls on the issue, discussing how to comply with the act while remaining 'cost competitive.'"

Ed. Note: Hmmm, where have I heard this before??? Oh yeah, in this space, about 100 times since the blog went live in January. Key points:
  • The new law is unclear
  • The implementing rules are unclear
  • CPSC guidance has not resolved these mysteries (and IMHO made them worse)
  • A team of lawyers is needed to interpret the mess - a team of business people is insufficient
  • Small businesses have no chance under the CPSIA
  • Internal resources are overwhelmed by the CPSIA's legal demands - even for companies with a large internal law department
  • The seriousness of the legal risks under the CPSIA means that any prudent company MUST hire expensive outside experts to provide compliance advice (and for many small businesses, this is just not a realistic option economically)
  • Remaining "cost competitive" is a seemingly unsolvable puzzle under this law.

And if Mattel says so, it MUST be true.

Adler was sympathetic (I can see the tears welling up . . . ):

"Adler responded with, 'Believe me. I've been struggling to learn it myself.' He said it's hard for CPSC to issue guidelines that are applicable to both large and small firms."

So the Commissioners themselves don't understand the law and the agency's rules. Join the club. And Adler admits that the law doesn't permit the agency to address small business concerns adequately.

Perhaps the CPSC leadership should talk to Congress??? Hey, that's an interesting thought . . . .

More good news - Mother Mattel is trying get the rest of the world to adopt the U.S. insanity:

"[Jim Walter, Mattel's senior vice president of product integrity & chief regulatory officer] said Mattel is working to internationally harmonize future product safety standards, finding that harmonizing standards after they have been issued is too difficult."

I have also heard directly from the TIA and others that lobbying efforts are underway to make the CPSIA a world standard. In other words, by drumming up support for this craziness, the big toy companies can ensure that no one will escape the costs that they must incur to remain active in the world's largest toy market, the U.S. To heck with small business interests! How generous of Mattel to get behind the law developed in response to its own bad behavior. I am so grateful for their guidance and oversight - they did such a great job in 2007/8, no doubt they will do even better now!

About the only consolation I can offer is that I don't think the failings of the CPSIA are lost on the outside world. The recent ICPHSO conference in Toronto made clear that no one in Canada is clamoring to use the CPSIA as a model for their new safety law. Contentions to the contrary by officials in this country must be taken with a grain of salt. It is abundantly clear that the CPSIA is yet another self-destructive initiative by the worst Congress in U.S. history - and no foreign government is in any hurry to work that magic on their own economy just because Henry Waxman and his merry band has Hari-Kari in mind for us. Interestingly, other countries seem to know that jobs matter.

Mattel's admissions frame the challenge for the rest of us. We need to make sure that the CPSC is well-aware of the completely unrealistic scenarios they are forcing on businesses (large and small) and to hold them accountable to push Congress to address these issues SOON. 2010 is an election year and it will be increasingly obvious to one and all that we will have our chance to replace those members of Congress who will not cooperate with our reasonable requests. Let's hope that they can see the future . . . and choose to act before it's too late.

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