Friday, May 8, 2009

CPSC Handbook for Resallers

A big deal has been made about the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)'s new Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Resellers. Apparently they came out with it recently, though I never got the email alert from the CPSC about it that I should have. I found out about it on Twitter!

I read the original handbook in February -- when they gave it to us just before the law into effect. This one isn't that different from the original one. It goes into a bit more detail about some of the "problematic" items that might come into a consignment shop or thrift store -- such as Cribs, Play Yards, Baby Walkers, Toy Chests...

But I don't sell any of those things. I sell books, and games, and other educational materials. So what new news did the CPSC have for me or others like me?

Well, before we get to that, the Introduction to the handbook should be of interest to all of us in the business of selling Children's Products: "The implementation of the CPSIA will have dramatic changes for the marketplace." Can we all say, "understatement"!?! (That sounds better than "Duh!") The problem is that all these changes are not making children safer -- which was the claimed purpose of the CPSIA in the first place.

And then they go on to give the lofty purpose of this new handbook, "to help you identify the types of products that are affected and to understand how to comply with the law, so you can keep unsafe products out of the hands of consumers." If they were really giving us any new information on CPSIA, 3 months after it's gone into effect, I would actually be unhappy. But not to fear. They have no real information for us here.

They merely state what we have been dealing with for the past 3 months: "Right now, resellers need to be able to determine what was manufactured in the past that may no longer be compliant." Exactly! While we applaud the 1 year delay in implementing the testing requirements for new items, CPSIA immediately put resellers in a bad spot. Products that were legal when they were made, legal when they were sold the first time, and legal when they were consigned before February 10, became problematic for resellers over night.

The authors of the handbook are trying to help, we'll give them credit for that. But for this reseller at least, they don't accomplish their lofty goal very well. On page 3 they tell us that resellers "cannot knowingly sell products that do not meet the requirements of the law." Implication would be that if we don't know it has lead, or phthalates, or a recall, when we sell it, we're okay. But wait, there's more. "Ignorance of the law is not an excuse." Doesn't that second statement override the first?

On page 4 they try to console us again, "If you should happen to sell or offer for sale a product in violation of the CPSIA or other law, CPSC's response will vary depending upon the circumstances...The Commission's response would also take into account the fact that you may be a small business. CPSC's goal is to help you to avoid future violations and protect your customers, not to put you out of business."

Why doesn't that comfort me? First, it's too subjective and too vague. The law says I can receive up to $100,000 fine and 5 years in jail -- for a first offense, and even as a small business. So what is the CPSC promising me? Only a $10,000 fine? Or a $50,000 fine? Or only 1 year in jail? Those may sound better to the CPSC, but any of those WOULD put us out of business, and seriously jeopardize our family.

And in case the CPSC has forgetten, because we certainly can't, the CPSC is only one of our concerns. Maybe they would only slap our hands for the first offense -- but what about the State Attorney Generals' Offices, who also have jurisdiction now? They are not bound to what the CPSC is promising. And what about civil suits? We can still be sued for violating this law, intentionally or not...No, I'm just not feeling comforted by their promising words.

And on page 6, they go back to the choices we have as Resellers under this new law, as we consider each and every used product that comes through our doors: We can test, we can not accept, we can use our best judgment about the product, or we can contact the manufacturer. (Oh, and be sure to check the recall list for each of them, while we're at it.)

I only have a couple of questions for the members of Congress and the CPSC that think these are reasonable requests: Have any of you ever been in a Thrift Store or a Consignment Store? Have any of you ever worked in one, or owned one? Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought.

First of all, let's start with the most ludicrous of the above choices: "Use your best judgment based on your knowledge of the product" I'm not even sure what to make of that statement! Will my best judgment stand up in court? I'm not a chemist...How can I possibly look at a product and be able to judge whether it has lead or phthalates? I've asked for a list of things that might be safe, and they can't provide it, so how could I possibly know? Are CDs safe? Are video tapes? Are the educational games or puzzles that just came in? I would have absolutely no way of knowing on any of those. If it's so easy, why don't they tell us?

And then there's the choice to contact the Manufacturers of these products...How much money do they think we make off each of these products, that they think we would have time to contact the Manufacturers for each and every problematic item?

And since we also can't afford testing anything that we deal with in our Consignment store, that only leaves one bad choice: Don't accept the product. So for the last 4 months, we have had to turn away countless books, toys, games, puzzles, manipulatives, and more. Not because they were unsafe, or even necessarily illegal. But we couldn't prove that they were lead free and phthalate free, so it was a risk to carry them. A risk that we couldn't afford to take. We lose, and our customers lose. And no one is better off.

With those choices, it's no wonder so many Consignment Shops that dealt primarily with Children's products have already closed their doors. Is that helping children? Or poor families? Or families on tight budgets? I don't think so...Was this one of the goals of this poorly written law, or just "an unintended consequence"?

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