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AAFA Seminar Puts Product Safety in Focus

New rules could add to production costs.

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission commissioner Ann Marie Buerkle extended an olive branch to fashion executives keeping a wary eye on potential regulatory changes.

“I’m sensitive to what businesses are up against,” said the former congresswoman, who spoke at a seminar here last week and grew up working in her parents’ grocery store before going on to become a nurse and then U.S. congresswoman. Before the commission makes changes, Buerkle said, she would like to know “what’s broken, what needs to be fixed and why are we doing this.”

Sponsored by the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the daylong event was attended by about 140 of the association’s members and kicked off with Buerkle’s presentation highlighting some of the issues facing importers, manufacturers and retailers. Chief among them was the commission’s vote last year to approve a rule that, if implemented, would require electronic filing of certificates with each shipment for imported products to enter the U.S. It would also require that the electronic certificates be identified prominently on the finished product or shipping carton, providing access without password protection.

“I’m concerned about the private information of manufacturing companies being released,” Buerkle said. “There’s [a] lack of rationale supporting the rule.”

Other nail-biting topics for the industry are the CPSC’s proposed changes to rules restricting the disclosure of information to the public about a consumer product and to section 15 of the Consumer Product Safety Act that would alter the current procedures of voluntary recalls and their accompanying voluntary corrective action plans, making voluntary corrective actions legally binding.

 

“This is a stunning development,” she said. “This changes the tone and tenor of the relationship between the CPSC and the industry.”

Buerkle also addressed the law that would give the commission latitude to reduce the burden of third-party testing on apparel companies. The law passed in 2011, but “there’s been no action to date from the commission” on the matter, said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

“One of my missions is to comply with this directive from Congress to bring down the cost of third-party testing,” said Buerkle, inviting the industry to provide ideas.

Also top of mind for the industry is the impact of the passing of California’s Safer Consumer Products Regulations, which became effective Oct. 1 and aim to create safer substitutes for hazardous ingredients in consumer products sold in the state. Possible enforcement actions under the hazardous waste provisions could lead to penalties of up to $25,000 per violation, said Keri Dawson, vice president of industry solutions and advisory services with MetricStream.

Andre Algazi, senior environmental scientist with the safer products and workplace program at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, noted that the first part of the act’s implementation involved identifying chemicals that exhibit hazardous traits. The department issued a list of about 2,300 candidate chemicals that could eventually be of concern. Of that list, 153 grouped chemicals, such as metals and dyes, are being studied before the agency renders its list of up to five priority products by April 1 that may be exposing consumers to the candidate chemical. If there’s a product on the list that impacts a company, it would have to enter into alternatives analysis testing and notify the department. The results may lead to a regulatory response.

“There may not be anything dealing with apparel, but we still don’t know,” Algazi said. “We’re not intending to pick on a product, but will continue to add to the list over the years.”

Kerianne Frylinck, senior manager of product integrity at Macy’s Inc., said, “I’m concerned about the timelines. What if they name a chemical in the product and you try to address it, you hope your analysis is acceptable and then they name a new chemical? You can get hit twice on the same product.”

Tony Alvarez, senior director of global logistics compliance for Volcom Inc., said, “I’m paying 40 percent to 50 percent more in higher test costs compared to last year. We’re absorbing it because of concerns, but it’s affecting margins.”