Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Meet Me in St. Louis

This past week I had the honor and pleasure of addressing the graduating class of the product safety management course at the Cook School of Business at St. Louis University. The program is one of only a few executive education programs focused exclusively on training corporate product safety compliance managers. The graduates were engaged and knowledgeable, but also realistic in understanding the challenges they face in managing the increasingly complex job of successfully integrating safety into a global supply chain in a way that assures compliance with our regulations.

As an exercise, we undertook a mock hearing paralleling the priorities hearing the Commission held several weeks ago. The “student witnesses” testified before me (representing the  Commission) about issues to which they believe the agency should be giving increased attention. Their “testimony” was informed by the studies they have been doing over the past several months.

Interestingly to me, what I heard paralleled in many ways the messages we heard from the Commission’s July priorities hearing. While the students had suggestions for specific products that they believe present risks and warrant additional attention, several themes also came through loud and clear. For example, we spent much time talking about the alignment of international standards and the preemption of state standards. In their work back at their companies, they have seen the problems caused by  diverse standards all addressing particular risks but in different ways. Additionally, we discussed the sometimes overwhelming challenges that smaller- to medium-sized companies face in trying to understand and comply with rules that they see as unnecessarily confusing. The message was that while safety is a core value, contending with hard-to-understand rules that seem to have requirements that do not necessarily advance safety—while still consuming scarce resources—is hard to justify.

In the end, I found the experience heartening. It is great to see the marketplace—and the education sector—responding to new safety challenges with training to help companies further develop the management processes to assure safety in their companies and products and compliance with the law. Although it may be frustrating to hear more about the difficulties created by poorly crafted, poorly understood rules coming out of the CPSC, one sees dimly the hope of a reinvigorated community of the regulated and the regulators, working together to craft sensible rules that improve safety effectively and reasonably.

Ports Report

Last week I was in New York to talk with the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. We discussed importers’ responsibilities for testing and certification as well as the status of several ongoing regulatory proceedings of special interest to importers. The group was keenly interested in these issues as importers are especially impacted by many of our new regulations, and they are eager to “get it right.”

I also had the chance to meet with officials from both Customs and Border Protection and several ports. I was pleased but not at all surprised to hear their praise of the CPSC staff at the ports who are working tirelessly alongside Customs agents to stop dangerous products before they hit store shelves. The ongoing close cooperation that has developed between the CPSC and Customs since our Import Surveillance Division was established in 2008 is a real success story for both agencies. Port officials also gave the agency gold stars for cooperation. Kudos to all our staff, CBP, and the ports for their professionalism and dedication to making consumers safer.

A Visit with Veritas

Today, I’m treading the scholarly sidewalks of Cambridge, Mass., speaking to students and faculty in the Regulatory Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. It’s exciting for me to get a chance to engage with some of the best and the brightest in the field of regulatory policy. My topic: Based on CPSC’s experience, do multi-member commissions give a better bang for the regulatory buck than a single administrator if that administrator uses smart regulatory tools like cost-benefit analysis and rule review? What do you think? Read the Kennedy School’s story

Voices from Outside the Echo Chamber

A regulator’s job description should include a requirement to get out of the Washington echo chamber, from time to time, to visit and talk with folks who have to live with our mandates. That is one of the best ways we have to gauge if regulations make sense out in the real world and if there are any issues surfacing as companies work to comply with the law. Last week I was on the road, having just those kinds of conversations.

The ABC Kids Expo was a wonderful opportunity to talk one-on-one with smaller companies who make a wide variety of infant and children’s furniture and other products. Without exception, these companies expressed a strong commitment to safety. This makes sense because many of the companies represented were started by entrepreneurial parents who saw either a need going unmet or a way to improve a product. While these companies were very pleased and eager to get whatever information we can offer on how to comply with our rules, I also heard concerns about both the process of writing the rules and the substance of the rules themselves. For example, the agency, working with the voluntary standards bodies, has been issuing the Congressionally-directed durable infant and toddler products regulations at a rapid pace.  Yet there is growing concern, which I heard expressed again last week, that this is resulting in a process that is less rigorous, at times more arbitrary and more error-prone than it used to be. Certainly, this is something that warrants greater attention at the CPSC.

I also spent time at the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association Expo, talking with the association’s Board of Directors, conducting a safety seminar and walking the show floor talking with individual members of this very complex and dynamic industry. Here are some of the key points I took home:

  • Overall, component testing is not working as the cost saver we hoped for this industry;
  • CPSIA-required testing is posing challenges in terms of expense and frustration as companies test for substances that are not present but do not fit into the exemptions; and
  • Testing variability among labs, in particular with respect to phthalates testing, is adding time and expense to the process, and is consuming resources in an unproductive manner.

While there are some very large players, the bulk of the industry is made up of small, domestic companies. Because of the nature of the business, the small batch testing exemption does not apply. One small business owner, with fewer than 10 employees, told me of needing to add an employee to do nothing but administer and document his testing and regulatory compliance program. Another told me that since children’s garments were not a major part of his business, he has decided just to get out of that aspect of the business altogether rather than have to hassle with all the rules.

I am concerned when I hear reports like that. Congress directed us to look at ways to cut costs. I suspect that, if and when we get serious with a commitment to action, taking that directive seriously, rather than just playing charades with that directive, we will find that there is ample opportunity to provide some real relief. In the meantime, with no boost to safety, the clock is ticking on the existence of numerous U.S. based low-volume businesses and their employees’ livelihoods.

Postcard from the Subcontinent

Greetings from Bangalore, one of India’s principal textile and apparel manufacturing centers. This week I have been in both India and Bangladesh, advocating product safety to the region’s garment manufacturers. Here are some quick impressions:

• The textile and apparel industry is very important to the economies of India and Bangladesh. Most of the apparel Americans wear is imported and more and more of of that clothing comes from these two countries. In fact, Bangladesh is America’s fourth largest supplier of apparel, and India follows right after.

• My message of pushing safety up the supply chain has been well received in both countries. The Bangladesh conference where I spoke had more than 350 attendees, with many turned away because it was oversubscribed. The demand for the information we were giving was so great that the industry is already talking about another safety conference within the year. The turnout here in Bangalore was very large as well.

• Garment manufacturers, suppliers, and lab experts repeatedly expressed their appreciation that a senior government official would come this distance to discuss and explain the new and complex U.S. consumer laws. The level of official U.S. government engagement in this dialogue drove home the importance of product safety to this audience. Clearly, both the message and the messenger are important.

I was impressed by the eagerness of attendees to learn the rules and get it right. This translates into greater safety for American consumers.

Notes from China

Over the past week I have traveled to Hong Kong and to Guangzhou,China to talk with representatives of the apparel and toy industry about CPSIA implementation issues. Because of the complexity of this law, it is so important that we make ourselves available to those who are actually making consumer products for the US market to educate them about their safety obligations under the law. In no particular order, here are some of the things I heard:
• I heard consistent complaints about the very short comment periods being made available to those who want to have input into our various regulations. The observation was made more than once that perhaps the agency did not really welcome public comment because the comments periods where typically too short for thoughtful input. I want you to know I have been pushing for longer comment periods because your insights are both welcome and needed.
• Another theme I heard was the need for more flexibility to be built into the testing requirements. Many believe they are spending money with no real safety gain when the funds could be targeted to the areas of actual risk.
• For industries with rapidly changing inventory, such as the fashion industry, requiring random statistical sampling for all changes in product lines will result in enormous costs. There is a great deal of concern about how our soon-to-be-published proposed rule on periodic testing will impact this industry.
• There is great hope that component testing will offer some solutions to decrease costs and increase efficiencies. However, I got conflicting messages about whether this will actually result in developing a market for third party tested component parts. In some instances, this is already happening. However, I heard complaints that, for certain commodity-type products, such as wire, there is no real way for component testing to be helpful.
• With respect to phthalates testing, the agency’s change in test methods has resulted in significantly increased costs and our list of products with either a high or low risk of phthalates has caused confusion.
• A constant theme was the need for greater harmonization. The cost of testing and complying with various standards around the world is a burden on the manufacturing process and impacting consumer choice.
• More than one company told of sending the same product for testing at various accredited labs only to get different test results back, as well as conflicting advice on what testing is required.
Talking directly to those who are trying to implement this law is an invaluable experience. I continue to welcome your thoughts as we try to roll out new requirements imposed by the law. With safety as our constant goal, we are trying to get it right but we need your input to make that happen.

“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.

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