Families bought $4.9 billion-worth of infant and toddler products
last year. They also borrowed items or received hand-me-downs. But
finding out which products are unsafe, or have been the subject of
government recalls, is difficult.
Now, a parent's task of getting proper information to remedy
defective or dangerous products has become even harder. A study
shows that many of the manufacturer-hotline numbers listed on the
Consumer Product Safety Commission's website often turn out to be
The CPSC, which is the federal agency charged with protecting
consumers, runs a website and phone line to give people information
on products that have been recalled. Each month, dozens of baby
products appear on the list. If an item has been cited for safety
problems, the manufacturer gives a phone number where consumers can
get help, such as a repair kit, or in some cases, where to turn the
product in for a replacement.
Recently, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a nonprofit
association of consumer groups, found that 108 of the 595 hot-line
numbers on CPSC's list either did not work or did not lead to a
A big concern, according to the CFA, is that manufacturers are
under no obligation to staff a hot line and maintain it
indefinitely, although many products - cribs, bunk beds, and
strollers - have a long product life.
This is the latest in a series of events that has focused
attention squarely on child safety and the CPSC's effectiveness.
Marla Felcher, a former professor of marketing at Northwestern
University, has documented problems facing the agency in her book,
"It's No Accident" (Common Courage Press, 281 pp., $17.95). She had
a personal reason for doing the research: The toddler son of two
friends died in a faulty portable crib. Ms. Felcher set out to
investigate what could have been done to prevent the tragedy.
The result is a meticulously documented examination of the
infant-products industry. Felcher uncovered data that showed
products are sent to market inadequately tested. According to CPSC
statistics, each year these products are involved in the deaths of
87 children under 5 and the injuries of more than 65,000 infants
It's also an industry that is expected to monitor itself by
setting voluntary safety standards and reporting problems to the
If that sounds a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse, says
Felcher, it is. Not all companies report complaints, even though
the law requires them to do so in 24 hours, if there is substantial
risk of injury to consumers.
A case in point: In May, Cosco, the nation's largest manufacturer
of baby products, was fined $1.3 million for failing to report
product defects in strollers, cribs, car-seat carriers, and high