The following post appears courtesy of the Consumer Protection Branch of the Civil Division and is part of the department’s National Consumer Protection Week series.
Dangerously high lead content. Toxic phthalate levels. Aspiration and ingestion hazards. These may sound like the perilous byproducts of a front-page environmental catastrophe – but they are actually threats associated with some children’s toys. Today, as part of National Consumer Protection Week, we focus on raising awareness of the dangers posed by unsafe children’s products. The Department of Justice, along with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), works to intercept unsafe toys and products before they do harm, and to hold accountable the individuals and companies that profit at the expense of the health and safety of our children.
Our campaign against these dangers has two parts: criminal enforcement actions and aggressive civil accountability initiatives. On the enforcement side, the Department of Justice and the CPSC have stepped up their efforts against importers who bring unsafe products into the country. In the last several years, CPSC has intercepted millions of dangerous products that fail to meet federal safety standards, and the Department of Justice has brought action against the responsible parties. These products pose significant threats – they may be flammable, contaminated with toxic chemicals, or pose choking hazards. For example, in 2011, the DOJ's Consumer Protection Branch brought a criminal action against several individuals who submitted false child-resistance testing data to the CPSC for cigarette and multi-purpose lighters: a fraud that allowed manufacturers and importers to sell, in the United States, lighters that preschool-age children could easily operate. Child-resistance testing is designed to prevent the numerous fires and injuries caused each year by such young children playing with lighters.
Likewise, in February of 2013, the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York charged five individuals and five corporations in Brooklyn, N.Y., for allegedly importing and trafficking hazardous and counterfeit toys from China for sale in the United States. These toys, riddled with lead and choking hazards, were sold to unsuspecting consumers. The case was jointly investigated by the Consumer Protection Branch, the Homeland Security Investigations Intellectual Property Rights Group, the NYPD, and CPSC.
On the civil side, along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Protection Branch works to enforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prevents companies and individuals from exploiting minors through the internet. For example, in January 2013, Path, Inc. (a social media company) agreed to pay an $800,000 civil penalty to resolve the complaint filed by the Consumer Protection Branch alleging that Path collected personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental consent. In addition to our ongoing case work, the Consumer Protection Branch is committed to raising awareness of resources consumers can use to keep themselves safe. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission created an important tool consumers can use to educate themselves and better protect their children: SaferProducts.gov. SaferProducts.gov is a publicly accessible, searchable database of consumer product incident reports that allows anyone to submit reports of harm related to consumer products. Manufacturers receive a copy of reports and have the opportunity to comment on them, but the public can search these reports to see what other consumers have experienced.
Together, we are committed to attacking the problem of unsafe children’s products. We want families to be able to trust the toys and products they purchase, whether at their local stores or through online retailers. We fight to ensure that consumers are secure in the knowledge that products are safe for the intended use – and will not bring harm to those they love. For more information on these and other consumer safety issues, visit: SaferProducts.gov, ftc.gov, or the official website for National Consumer Protection Week, ncpw.gov.