With all the talk of recent poor ethics in
business, you'd think I'd be over my naive outlook. You'd think with my 38
years, I would be a little less shockable. However, I recently discovered
some big business practices that shocked me.
I know that I have a more utopian view of the world. I have accepted that
many businesses don't think like I do. But when I recently discovered how
many large businesses completely disrespect their customers, and in a
dangerous manner, I was shocked. And more than a bit angry. I was
Like many business owners, I belong to several groups & lists where we
small business folks network about everything from where to find supplies,
how to promote on a shoe string, how to keep your chin up in the first few
non-profit years, and many other things. One day, a simple post to a list
changed my views regarding business ethics from a grudging respect of
their market share (despite my thoughts on how they do things) to complete
A fellow list member inquired how another's product testing had gone. And
the member with the new product, an infant carrier, replied that it had
gone very well for her, but not well for parents everywhere...
Sharon Abendschoen, the maker of the new carrier, had asked the product
testing company not only if her product had passed, but how it measured up
with other companies. Was her product 'average?' (Could she even hope to
hear that her product was the best?!) What she heard not only angered her,
but many of us on the list.
The basic response, after much shuffling on the testing company's employee
(who was obviously upset by both what he had to report, as well as how he
would be held accountable for his comments), was that no other companies
do the testing.
Yes, you read that right. The other companies don't do the
Now, yes, they do have to comply with safety standards for crash testing,
and these are mostly done 'in house' (if you can believe that!) but none
of the manufactures have the products tested for real world for
Things like handles on the carriers, do they fall off? Do they pinch? Do
the handles harm infants? (Oh, and yes they do, see the recall lists!) The
normal wear & tear of a product, as it undergoes daily use, is never
Why? Because these large companies would
rather trust their teams of lawyers & count on their deep pockets,
rather than pay for the testing. Ugh.
For myself as a mother who has used many of
these products, I was sickened by this news. I had a hard time even
believing it. I just couldn't accept that any company who sold products to
families would simply not care about the product's safety. So I had to do
a little research...
I wish I could report that I found the
above information was wrong... Unfortunately, I found that this was true
-- and much worse!
I contacted E. Marla Felcher, author of
"It's No Accident : How Corporations Sell Dangerous Baby
Products" and while she is now working on her government research of
airline safety, she spoke with me at length about her disheartening
research on baby products.
It seems that not only do these companies
not test, but once the public numbers of accidents & deaths start to
roll in, these companies do everything possible to cover it up, silence
the news & even go so far as to paint the parents & victims as the
Says Felcher "Basically, these
companies are not loyal to the consumers they state they 'serve', they are
only in search of satisfying their board of directors in search of
dollars." She went on to say that while she as a researcher cannot
sponsor any product or manufacturer, she was delighted to hear that Sharon
had her product tested. "It is unfortunate that the smaller companies
have to take the hardest financial 'hit' to have the products undergo the
testing, in some cases just to avoid the lawsuits, while the larger
companies, who have the funds & hold the largest market-share skip it.
It is these same small companies who will also have the hardest time in
marketing, and even letting consumers know they do have safer
Felcher then explained to me how these
large companies abuse the system that is designed to protect children
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
is designed to follow reports of accidents & deaths as they pertain to
product safety. With various means of collecting the information,
including a toll-free hotline & gathering data from emergency rooms
etc., the CPSC fields 100's of reports a week. From the reports, they try
to take legal action, including product recalls. Not easy work when your
agency is up against such deep pockets fighting to prevent any
These companies stand up in court and blame
the parents for the deaths & injuries, claiming it was the way the
products were used. That the company had no way of knowing the products
would be used in such manner. If they had participated in product testing
they would have! (And how far of a reach is it to expect that a parent
would put a child to sleep in a portable crib, carry an infant carrier by
the handle, or that the movable handle could hit an infant in the head?!)
Even once the CPSC manages to get a product
recall, the companies continue to abuse the system.
Since the law requires that both the CPSC
& the manufacture have to put out a joint press release both sides
must agree with what is written before it is released. So the companies of
course, drag their feet, limit the language to sound harmless, and do
their best to make it a meaningless piece of paper. Waiting longer does
not give the CPSC any more power or ability to get an accurate press
release written. Obviously, in their need to get whatever word out they
can, the CPSC has to let the watered-down version go out.
And still the companies work to
silence the release.
While manufacturers make use of their vast
resources and marketing abilities to reach consumers to sell products,
they actively counter-act the same efforts to tell consumers that the same
products could be deadly. The CPSC is underfunded, understaffed, and
buffeted by political forces, so it depends too heavily on the news media
to warn consumers. But the media, receiving such bland press releases,
often does not see the 'news' in the release, and let's it go unreported.
Even when the products make a recall list,
that list is so little utilized by parents who think 'If the product is
for sale, it must be safe.' And with 100s of products added to the recall
lists each year, the lists are rarely utilized. Even by those people &
organizations who are entrusted to know it.
Here is a story that illustrates the
situation, and is what led Felcher to investigate. It is a sad story, a
horrible one. One that most parents dread to even read.
But I urge you to do so.
Like Felcher, you may wish you knew before
hand. Maybe it would have made the difference for Daniel, the son of one
of Felcher's friends.
Seventeen month old Daniel Keysar died at
babysitter's home when his portable crib collapsed, strangling him. All
were convinced it was a freak accident, as just eight days before the
state child welfare workers had inspected and approved the babysitter's
Then, the day before Danny's funeral, they
learned that the crib that killed Danny had killed 3 others, and had been
recalled five years earlier by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Grieving family now had to cope with the loss of their dear son, and
grapple with the reality that his death could have been avoided.
Daniel died as a result of the baby product
recall system abuse.
Abuse that continues, despite the efforts
of Felcher's book, and the organization that Daniel's parents started, in
loving memory of their son.
For additional information on the valiant efforts undertaken by the KIDS
team on behalf of child safety, visit this page: http://www.kidsindanger.org/news.htm
How can companies who sell consumers on the
very aspect of safely do this? How can these people who make up the
companies sleep at night? I would dare say that behavior like this goes
past abuse of a system, to murder or manslaughter. What else do you call
hiding the dangers of your products therefore allowing death to occur?
With all the talk of business ethics, what
about plain old common sense & care for the human condition? Shouldn't
a company that sells products to families, under the key points of safety
no less, be held accountable to some human standard of decency?
Sharon Abendschoen thinks so. Grandmother
first, and maker of the See Shell Baby Carrier second, she believes in
more than the bottom line of her company -- she believes in the bottom
line of her soul.
This Mommy, Auntie, and consumer agrees.
Untopian? Maybe. But it's also just plain right.
By Deanna Ferber