“Incredible India” meets the CPSIA

The philosopher George Santayana wrote: “If we do not learn from the mistakes of others, we are bound to repeat them”.  With that in mind, this week I am in India talking with apparel, textile and footwear manufacturers and exporters about the challenges of the CPSIA.  As exports to the U.S. from India continue to grow, Indian manufacturers are determined not to repeat the experiences of their counterparts in China. 

I have made several speeches about the new law and held meetings to discuss its requirements with apparel and other business representatives in New Delhi as well as in Chennai, which is the center of the Indian leather industry.  I also met with representatives of several Indian consumer organizations.

Indian exporters are aware that there is a new safety law in place in the U.S. but know few of the details. My task here is to explain to them both the requirements of the law and the reasons behind it — and that is no easy task.  Like those in the U.S., Indian apparel and footwear manufacturers view safety as a core value.  However, I have heard the point made repeatedly that manufacturers make products to the specifications they are given by those importing products into the U.S.  This emphasizes the key responsibility of those U.S. companies who source their products overseas.   Safety and quality assurance must be integrated links in the entire supply chain. 

Like their U.S. counterparts, the Indian businesses with whom I have been talking are very anxious about the testing and certification requirements in the new law.  They are concerned about both the cost and availability of testing laboratories.  They need the CPSC to clarify testing and certification requirements as early as possible and in a manner that minimizes burdens and gives them plenty of lead time to adjust to those requirements.  In this respect, they are no different from their U.S. counterparts.

Many manufacturers here were unaware that the new law now calls for non-complying imported products to be destroyed rather than be re-exported.  One of my core messages to them:  the CPSC wants to work with them to help them get it right to avoid violations. 

The challenges that U.S. companies face in complying with the CPSIA are shared by businesses around the world that make and export products to the U.S.  In this world, what goes around does indeed come around.  And we want it made with safety in mind.

1 Response to ““Incredible India” meets the CPSIA”

  1. 1 An Importer November 25, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for starting this blog and opening up a wider discourse regarding the CPSIA.

    I would like to add another dimension to your experience in India. I believe that there is a common perception within the CPSC, the government, and consumer groups that the typical American “importer” of products into this country develops a product under their own name, then goes overseas with their specs and finds a manufacturer to make their product.

    While this is a very common model, and I believe is the reason so much emphasis and responsibility/risk is placed on the “manufacturer” or “importer” within this law, it ignores other prevalent models.

    In many cases a domestic children’s product distributor will create a business around representing foreign brands. Such distributors have very little to do (nothing) to do with the manufacturing process, but they are the importer of record, and they promote the product to retailers across the country. In other cases, foreign brands will actually work directly with US sales representatives and ship by UPS directly to retailers. In this case who is the importer? The retailer? (they are the importer of record). Should “Mary Lou’s Toys” in Topeka KS be responsible for testing and certification? Do we expect her to visit the factory and ensure product safety?

    Even in the case of the domestic distributor of foreign brands, does the US Gov’t really expect them to be responsible for product design, for the selection of materials, assembly, and permanent markings based on the correct batch?

    First, in many cases the foreign brand will not reveal the names of the factories they use, and even if they did, does the US Govt expect a “distributor” that knows nothing about manufacturing to oversee the various steps of product development and production, including policing the factories? Even if we had the time and money, I don’t think we are qualified. And NO, the TSCP is NOT an option.

    Yet we are “responsible.” Please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying an importer shouldn’t bare some responsibility for ensuring that products meet standards and are safe. In our case, we have always ensured compliance by finding the very best brands, that use the best materials, and high quality products, as well as following the protocols of a reasonable testing program. However, it was always understood within our business partnership that it is their product, they must ultimately ensure compliance, and in the case of an unlikely recall, they would be financially responsible, while we would otherwise facilitate such action. I understand that is typical of industry practice.

    But alas the politicians and consumer groups that have never run a business know better, and lump importers all together.

    We now have two choices: We could try to stay with the very best brands…which gives us peace of mind knowing our products are top notch and shouldn’t fail us, but they are expensive so they fill only a small “niche”. Since the volumes are low it is next to impossible to keep most products, not only because of the cost of testing, but perhaps more critically, the difficulty of finding economical ways to administer and affix permanent markings for a relatively small part of their business (the USA is a small market compared to global sales for most of our suppliers). Alternatively, we could move to cheaper, more “mass market” products from suppliers that can meet the certification and labeling demands of the CPSIA because of the higher volume; but they do not care as much about their product as the companies we working with at the moment. Of course we would not choose this option, and our customers would not allow it. Certainly an interest in “safety” dictates away from that option too (but CPSIA pushes more and more companies in that direction).

    So in your conversations, please don’t forget there are more models than “manufacturers” and “importers” (of their own brand).

    Thank you,

    Sleepless Importer in America

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