Just in time for the holiday season, USA Today reveals the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) pulled inspectors from ports around the country in mid-March due to COVID-19. The shutdown continued to September, meaning inspectors were not at the ports “while this year’s holiday gifts entered the U.S.,” the piece emphasizes.
The holiday season alone generated $1.14 trillion in 2019 and is expected to generate even more this year. The products that went uninspected during the shutdown are already in the market, or worse, purchased and tucked beneath Christmas trees across the country. As a result, consumer product companies face significant challenges and implications in the foreseeable future.
Let’s take a look at some of the top data and information we pulled from USA Today’s investigation:
- The CPSC found 74% more port violations in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019. If this pace continued, the CPSC was on track before the pandemic to find almost 200 more port violations for the year than it had in 2019.
- From April to September, the agency issued merely one-fourth of the violations it did during the same period in 2019.
- CPSC inspectors performed an average of 3,000 monthly screenings at the ports at the beginning of the year. By May, that number dropped to about 100. In August, they performed 47.
- Lead violations at the ports plummeted from a monthly average of 50 to zero this past spring. The CPSC did not flag any toys at the ports between June and July for poisonous lead levels, which is one of the most frequent violations.
- Violations that saw a dramatic drop this September compared to last include toys with small parts and children’s products with hazardous levels of chemicals.
- Despite inspectors returning to work in October, only 61 violations were found at the ports of Los Angeles, which receive almost 40% of the country’s total container imports. Most of these violations involved minor problems with children’s toys, such as missing paperwork and inadequate labels. As of December, the agency continues to lack manpower and has remained inactive at five port locations around the country.
- Consumer product safety advocates are urging regulators to bring port inspection levels back up to normal. The article states the CPSC and Adler neglected to alert the public.
What this means for companies
There’s no doubt port violations recorded during the shutdown dropped significantly. While it’s good news the CPSC prioritized the health and safety of its workers, the lack of inspections means product violations may have slipped through the cracks. These products, which could endanger consumers, have already made it to the market and are on shelves being sold around the country.
The data also shows children’s products were heavily implicated, an indication that regulators’ attention and scrutiny around this category will continue and perhaps escalate.
At a time when fear is prevailing, USA Today’s investigation has the potential to spur even more fear among consumers, encourage consumer advocacy groups to take action, and garner the media’s attention. As a result, pressure on regulators will intensify.
Combine these events and it’s likely we’ll see product recalls skyrocket as the world re-opens and regulators turn their attention back on companies who may be selling defective products that went unnoticed. Are your crisis and recall plans prepared for what’s to come?