Corporate America Doesn't Care About My Family or Yours

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Tweens, Health & Safety: Teens, Opinions

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Is corporate America concerned about your safety? Credit: Spencer Platt, Getty Images

It's another David vs. Goliath showdown. In this case, though, David is concerned parents like you and me, and Goliath is corporate America and his government cronies. But just like in the original story, David is putting up a scrappy fight to help protect our loved ones.

For decades, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been collecting complaints from us regular folks about potentially dangerous products over a wide range of categories, from tools and household electronics to children's toys, clothing and care products.

Although CPSC's role is all about monitoring product safety, much of the information from these complaints is not made public because of a federal law that requires a manufacturer's approval before it can be released. This means that you might never know if a safety issue has been reported about your child's crib or pacifier, or even your blender or lawn mower. So, without that information, how are we expected to protect our families and ourselves?

In recognition of this absurd and potentially dangerous set of rules, the CPSC has proposed the creation of a new, publicly accessible database of safety complaints, which would make it easier for the rest of us to learn about product issues.

Proposed to go live in March 2011, the database would be accessible at SaferProducts.gov, and would allow anyone with a computer to browse safety-related complaints about products. It would also give manufacturers the ability to post their side of the story or even to have a complaint removed if they can prove it's inaccurate.

This would be a great leap forward for parents like you and me, as we could search the database before buying strollers, cribs or toys -- potentially saving our infants and children from accidental injury or even death.

Sounds like a great plan to me -- a total win-win situation, which no one could possibly object to. Right?

Wrong.

The proposal is not guaranteed to pass the CPSC's five-member commission in a vote scheduled for today. Disturbingly, this potentially life-saving plan may fall victim to political squabbling between the Republican and Democratic members of the commission, according to The New York Times.

The Republican commissioners are fighting to change the database in ways they say would make it more fair to manufacturers, but independent consumer advocacy groups and at least one Democrat commissioner tell The Times these changes would significantly weaken it.

One of the things the Republicans want is to restrict who can register a complaint to those with firsthand knowledge of a product hazard, like parents and health care workers, The Times reports. Currently, "users of consumer products, family members, relatives, parents, guardians, friends, attorneys, investigators, professional engineers, agents of a user of a consumer product and observers of the consumer products being used" can all register complaints.

But one Republican commissioner, Nancy Nord, tells The Times she's worried that plaintiff's lawyers and competitors could post "bogus information" to gain an edge on manufacturers. I assume she meant to say "innocent and well-meaning manufacturers," because it's corporate America's job to look after the little guys, the regular Joes and Janes who work hard to support their families and buy those millions of dollars worth of products each year for their loved ones ... isn't it?

Hardly.

The only thing big business looks out for is their bottom line -- oh, and to ensure big bonuses for the high-paid executives who play fast and loose with the rules when our family's safety and well-being is at stake.

As one of the Democrat commissioners, Bob Adler, tells The Times: "Some folks are worried more about lost sales and not worried enough about lost souls."

In just one of what could be hundreds, even thousands, of cases, such a database could have prevented the 1997 death of 10-month-old Tyler Witte, when he became entrapped in a drop-side crib -- likely similar to one of the two million cribs that were recalled this year in one of the largest CPSC recalls ever. Tyler's mom, Michele Witte, tells The Times that she had purchased the crib because it was advertised as being safe, but only learned after her son's death that other children had died in drop-side cribs, too.

"There was no database back in the '90s where I could learn if other parents had been through this," Michele says. "I believed my son was an isolated case."

The current CPSC rules make it difficult to access information about unsafe products without a manufacturer's consent and typically require filing a Freedom of Information Act request, which can take months or years to fulfill, says The Times.

To back up her case of how false information about a product or manufacturer could be perpetuated by use of the database, Nord cites the recent case of Pampers Dry Max, made by Procter & Gamble.

From April through August 2010, P&G received nearly 4,700 incident reports from parents stating that the diapers caused their babies to get a rash. But an official investigation by the CPSC found no link between the diapers and rash symptoms.

Nord tells The Times that all these complaints would have been posted about the diapers even though she says they proved to be wrong.

What Nord doesn't realize is that she would be doing her big business buddies a favor by voting for the new public CPSC database. After all, parents' anger over the Pampers Dry Max incident was fueled by social media sites and bloggers, resulting in an anti-Pampers Facebook page that grew to more than 11,000 members and sent the corporate giant into crisis-PR mode.

Wouldn't a database that gives manufacturers the ability to respond officially and allow them to address inaccurate claims actually afford them greater protection?

Not that I really care about protecting big business -- but if it helps me keep my family safe, I can afford to be generous.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.