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Consumer Safety Act Gets Mixed Reaction

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

As the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) reached its first anniversary August 14, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman Inez Tenenbaum was sanguine about accomplishments to date, but that's not exactly how clothing and footwear manufacturers and small businesses see it.

Tenenbaum said CPSC is educating domestic and overseas manufacturers, importers and distributors of children's products about "important new safety requirements" that will make children better protected in their homes. She cited new regulations covering lead content in children's products, the prospect of heavier civil penalties for product safety violators, a program to require tracking labels on products intended for use by children under 12 years of age and warnings in advertising of products that present a possible choking hazard.

While Tenenbaum was outlining progress, Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty, a Washington-based organization representing small businesses, was highly critical of the new law. In an interview with Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper with a broad readership among members of Congress and their staffs, Langer said. "The landmark legislation was intended to enhance the safety of children's products. However, good intentions are no excuse for bad legislation. The unintended consequences of CPSIA  have created great confusion among consumers, economic risks for small businesses and further health risks for small children."

Langer was particularly critical of the act's third-party testing requirements, saying the costs of testing could put small companies out of business.

Langer said he did not blame the CPSC for the regulations it has promulgated, but said the problems stem from "unwieldy legislation." And he called on Congress to revisit the legislation and make changes in the testing requirement. Without changes, he said,  CPSIA will create more risk than protection to children and hurt the nation's economy.

Likewise, Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said the CPSIA was "well intentioned" but has missed its mark by going far beyond its originally intended purpose of keeping unsafe toys off the market. Instead, he said, it has created a "guilty until proven innocent compliance environment even for products that have always been safe." As a result, he said, manufacturers of children's products are spending tremendous resources in duplicate testing of their products in order to comply with the law. He said the extra costs are doing little to improve safety but are "adding enormous pressures to companies already scrambling to cope with the economic downturn."

Burke called on Congress to conduct hearings in which all stakeholders would have an opportunity to document the early successes and failures of the CPSIA and make it work  more effectively to carry out its intended purpose.

August 18, 2009