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Levick Daily. Thoughts. Perspectives. Insights.

Product Liability

Crib Recall Provides a Glimpse of What's To Come

Gene Grabowski

As news broke late last night and early this morning that Stork Craft Manufacturing is recalling 2.1 million cribs due to a suffocation risk that has claimed four lives and injured scores of children, consumer product companies got a good look at what’s to come as regulatory scrutiny of product safety continues to escalate.

Government agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), are working with bigger budgets, enhanced regulatory mechanisms, and a mandate from Congress and the White House to keep unsafe products off the shelves. As a result, companies that don’t evolve along with the new safety-conscious paradigm can expect legal and reputational liabilities galore.

Stork Craft Manufacturing could be considered one of those companies that hadn’t effectively adapted to the new rules of the road. Its failure to address safety issues raised during a similar recall of more than 500,000 cribs in January of this year likely put the CPSC on red alert. As Chairman Inez Tenenbaum put it, “We were not advancing on this case as quickly as possible so I put all of the resources for the agency on this project so that they could accomplish the goal of recalling this crib.” The company’s retreat into radio silence hadn’t helped either. It ceded control of the story to adversaries and left an information vacuum that critics are scurrying to fill.

With all of that, Stork Craft has made a few right moves in this largest-of-its-kind recall. Importantly, these steps are in line with the strict new standards that will be enforced when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) goes into full effect in early 2010. First, the company acted immediately to establish a website and call center to share vital information with consumers; the first wire stories published last night included a URL and phone number for worried parents. Second, the company is providing consumers with a free repair kit.

With the CPSIA now holding companies responsible not only for problems that lead to a recall, but for the effectiveness and publicity of the recall itself, these are steps that any consumer product company in a similar fix will want to emulate.

As Mike Rozembajgier of Stericycle’s Expert RECALL team told Fox and Friends this morning, “Stork Craft isn’t in the crib business now, it’s in the child-safety business.” As such, the company needs to learn from its initial mistakes, build on what it’s done right, and aggressively articulate what it is doing from this point forward to ensure the safety of children.

Gene Grabowski is Senior Vice President of Crisis and Litigation at Levick Strategic Communications, the nation’s top crisis communications firm, and a contributing author to Bulletproof Blog. Connect with him @crisisguru.

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