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When the Watchdog Goes Awry: The CPSC’s Misguided Assault on Slings

According to its mission statement, the “U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction.”  I think most consumers would agree that a government watchdog charged with holding companies accountable for unsafe products is a good thing.   If a product is made with unsafe materials or constructed in an unsafe manner, I – and millions of other consumers – want to know about it.  The CPSC also holds products to industry standards for safety, standards developed in conjunction with the associated industry.

When an injury or death associated with a product is brought to the attention of the CPSC, they investigate the incident to determine if the product is out of compliance with industry standards; if so, a recall is issued.  According to the CPSC’s own rules, a death or injury associated with a product is not reason enough to issue a recall; the product must be fundamentally unsound – either by mechanical defect or because its design prohibits safe usage.  The danger presented by the product must be based on scientific evidence, not based on anecdote or hearsay.

Industry standards are designed to ensure that products can be used safely and are safely constructed.  Even if there is no incident associated with a product, if it is found to violate industry standards, it can (and should) be recalled.   The CPSC works as a consumer protection agency if it follows its own rules designed to prevent the unnecessary recall of safe products simply because a death or injury was associated with them.  The rules also prevent deaths or injuries due to unsafe products which can be recalled before an incident happens.  For the most part, this system has seemed to function smoothly; numerous unsafe products have been removed from store shelves and consumers have been made aware of the dangers.  But the watchdog function of the CPSC only works when they play by the rules; when they don’t, they simply become government bullies issuing less than credible safety information.

The CPSC has decided to ignore its own rules in its dealings with slings.  I wrote several months ago about the CPSC’s curious handling of prior sling recalls.  Their latest actions, however, demonstrate a dangerous disregard for the very procedures that make their safety recommendations meaningful.

A recall of a major SAFE baby carrier is expected later this week, a recall that clearly demonstrates the CPSC’s lack of regard for their own rules – and for truly ensuring consumer safety.

In 2005, the CPSC was notified that a death had occurred in association with this brand of sling.  Upon investigation, CPSC found that the sling was not at fault in the death and the case was closed in 2007.  Several months ago, the company was informed the case was being reopened.  Despite admitting there is no flaw in the product (in other words, nothing mechanically unsound or nothing preventing its safe usage), CPSC demanded the company discontinue sales and recall all previously sold products.

The company discontinued sales and requested a copy of the Health and Science report that CPSC claimed illustrated the need for the recall.  This report is routinely given to companies facing the recall of a product and provides evidence based reasons for the recall.   CPSC never provided the company a copy of the alleged report or any evidence supporting the need for a recall.

CPSC then gave the company a choice:  recall your product voluntarily or have it recalled unilaterally (a forced recall by CPSC).  The wording of the unilateral recall also included language threatening a recall of the entire class of product.  The company maintained that their product was safe (and it is!).  They also reiterated their willingness to work with the CPSC on a public awareness campaign about sling safety; they were ignored.

The CPSC has also ignored requests to hold off on an a recall action until the release of baby carrier industry standards (due out next month); the baby carrier industry has been working with ASTM International to develop these standards for the past several years – using the same process that every other company under CPSC’s jurisdiction uses.   No rationale has been given for why a case closed in 2007 was suddenly reopened only months before industry standards are to take effect.  According to its own rules, if the product if found to be in compliance with industry standards (developed in conjunction with CPSC) and if the product was not found to be at fault in the fatality, CPSC can not issue a recall.  A cynic might suggest the timing of this recall is clearly an attempt to circumvent industry standards and shut the industry out of the safety process.

CPSC is clearly violating its own rules in its handling of this case:

  • CPSC is refusing to provide scientific evidence of the dangers of the product in question, evidence routinely provided in other recalls. If the CPSC begins issuing recalls that are not based on scientific evidence, they lose credibility as a consumer protection agency.
  • CPSC is using bullying tactics to force the company to close and recall its product.  They have issued a direct threat on the entire class of product despite the lack of evidence that any danger exists.
  • CPSC is ignoring the baby carrier industry standards which they themselves have been involved in producing.  They are refusing to work with the baby carrier industry in observing developed standards as they routinely do with other products.

Can we trust recall and safety information from an organization that is demonstrating such a clear disregard for its own operating procedures?

Babywearing is safe.  Humans have worn their young for as long as there have been means to do so; in fact, some argue that the practice of babywearing was a key factor in our development as a species.    The scientific evidence supporting the benefits of babywearing is overwhelming.  Babywearing is a natural extension of the gestation of a human child; it allows for close, physical contact between infant and caregiver – contact that is crucial for an infant’s physical and emotional development.  Worn babies cry less indicating their greater physical and emotional comfort.  Wearing allows a caregiver to provide close physical contact while still being able to move and complete tasks – anyone who has ever cared for a newborn can appreciate the ability to do something as simple as eat a sandwich with both hands while still holding and comforting your baby.   As these stories indicate, babywearing is a vitally important parenting tool.   I have worn my son nearly daily for all of his 21 months and can’t imagine parenting without carriers.

The recently formed Baby Carrier Industry Alliance has created an excellent position paper demonstrating the importance of babywearing.   BCIA has worked tirelessly during the past few months to both protect the baby carrier industry and to ensure that all slings on the market meet safety standards – the same standards that the industry has been developing over the last few years in accordance with ASTM International and CPSC.

How can you help protect the future of safe slings??

  • Contact your Senators and Representatives in Congress – especially if your Senator or Congressperson is a member of the committee responsible for overseeing CPSC (a list can be found on the Babywearing Safety Facebook page).
  • Support the work of the BCIA through joining or making a small donation.  Every penny counts towards ensuring safe carriers for future generations.
  • Share your babywearing story through your personal blog or Facebook page or submit your story to BCIA.
  • Make other babywearers aware of what is happening and encourage them to participate in the fight for safe slings.

Even if you aren’t a babywearer, this issue concerns you as a consumer.  If the CPSC is willing to act in this manner – using bullying and scare tactics to force a recall without scientific basis – regarding baby carriers, it’s likely they will do the same for other classes of products.  If it refuses to play by its own rules, the CPSC loses credibility as a consumer watchdog agency – an important role in a society filled with consumer products.

This matters for all of us.  Take action today.

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  1. […] Here’s a great blog on the CPSC issue, along with great links to info on babywearing. I guess my hope is that the small number of people who read this blog (hi, Mom and Dad!) will read about this situation here first, rather than “learning” about it from the misguided media reports that might follow a major recall. […]

  2. Good explanation of what is going on. This is truly distressing and hopefully the CPSC will recognize that the public is not going to stand for this and correct their course of action.

  3. Michele


    So glad you provided this explanation. This is truly alarming and unfortunate since I and many friends read and trust these recalls and warnings.

  4. […] and the product was recalled. Now, though, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) is expected to issue additional recalls of slings and carriers that are perfectly […]

  5. Miriam


    Not that this is a justification, but is it possible that the CPSC is wary of condoning baby carriers because — like car seats — many parents are negligent in proper use, don’t bother referring to manuals, etc. And this makes it difficult to standardize? As an avid babywearer for 5 kids now, I’ve seen quite a few ppl wearing things wrong, and this can obviously lead to issues . . .

    • Meredith


      The voluntary standards that the babywearing industry has created (that are being voted on this week by ATSM International are designed to prevent unsafe carriers (like the previously recalled bag slings which were impossible to safely position a baby in) from hitting the market and to create better instructions across the board. Any product can be misused. To recall something simply because it has the potential to be used incorrectly – and thus cause injury or death – is a huge overstepping of the role of CPSC. If they do that, we’d be left with nothing! As you note, even car seats can be used incorrectly – the answer, of course, isn’t to recall them, but to educate. And that’s something the babywearing community has been working very hard to do.

      IMO, if CPSC goes through with this recall, we will see other equally unjustified recalls in the future – and not just of baby carriers. If you look back at other recent recalls, you’ll see other products that have been pulled for the what essentially amounts to the “possibility of misuse” – that’s a very slippery slope.

    • Meredith


      Thank you for linking us! You have such a powerful story – truly shows the power of babywearing and why our slings are worth fighting for!

  6. […] years before. Although this is good news for prospective buyers of the bag slings in question, the CPSC are now trying to extend the recall to another type of sling, produced by a major manufacturer, despite having proved it safe in a previous investigation. The […]

  7. […] years before. Although this is good news for prospective buyers of the bag slings in question, the CPSC are now trying to extend the recall to another type of sling, produced by a major manufacturer, despite having proved it safe in a previous […]

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