What Compliance is All About...

When you think about it, that’s what we all should be, really – brand protectors. If you're familiar with our work at Quality Certification Alliance, you’re likely expecting something in this space about safe and compliant promotional products. I’m looking forward to focusing here each month on the challenges of sourcing the right products for end-user clients who are becoming increasingly risk-aware, thanks to the many stories of product failure in the mainstream media.

We can spend a lot of time talking about product risk assessments, intended user groups, and the product regulations that are changing daily. But those are just the means to an end: doing the right thing for the client, and that is protecting their brand. Whether you are sourcing for the corner dry cleaner, or a Fortune 100 client, all they really want you to do is tell them that a product they are interested in purchasing is safe.

In other words, they want you to be their brand protector. In a conversation about "doing the right thing" with a distributor last week, she expressed the end-user mentality as being "they don't want you to tell them how to build the clock, they just want to know what time it is."

A robust compliance program isn't just about product testing. It's about having the protocols in place to detect and deter unsafe product BEFORE it gets into the hands of end-users. Think of it as an insurance policy, or making a choice between "pay me now" and "pay me later." The results of a failed product can be devastating – much more than simply funding a recall. Fines, lawsuits, personal injury, and the loss of goodwill to a consumer-facing brand could be the result. A failed product could potentially put both supplier and distributor out of business, with the possibility of personal penalties assessed by the CPSC a potential consequence.

It's been two months since 60 Minutes disclosed that Lumber Liquidators was selling Chinese laminate flooring with formaldehyde levels exceeding California emission standards. Last week Lumber Liquidators announced they were pulling all product off the shelves, and hired a former FBI director to review sourcing protocol. Talk about "pay me later." Lumber Liquidators is taking a spanking in the company’s stock price (down over 11%), the CPSC is investigating and, at last count, there were more than 100 lawsuits filed seeking class action.
Not protecting their brand is precisely what Michael’s has been doing, too. The Department of Justice announced last month it is suing Michael’s because the retailer allegedly failed to report several instances of vases shattering because the glass was so thin. Consumers were even being injured before they left the store, by just picking up the vases in the aisle. Every supplier hopes that a product failure won’t happen, but despite best efforts, at one time or another, it’s just not going to happen that way. As with so many other things, honesty is the best policy. According to the DOJ, the Michael's vase problem went on for some four years, with instances of customers experiencing lacerations that required stitches, and some injuries even causing nerve and/or tendon damage. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and DOJ suit claims that Michael's was aware of the product failure, but chose to continue to sell the vases anyway. The suit also notes that Michael’s first denied being the importer of record, deflecting blame to its supplier. They later changed that position. The suit seeks undefined civil penalties.

Protecting the brand by protecting the end-user is so important that the QCA accreditation process requires suppliers to be able to prove they can conduct a recall. That process includes having a communication plan in place, should a recall be needed. It's important to note that the CPSC looks much more favorably on a voluntary notification of the problem. Our philosophy is always to get the insurance up front, but be prepared on the back end, just in case.

So, if you're involved in the business of being a brand protector, I hope to find you a regular visitor here. I can be counted on to cover what’s happening in the industry, things you need to be aware of, and topics and stories that intrigue me that I hope will intrigue you as well. And I want to hear your stories, too, so please feel free to share the in the comments here or to email me directly – any time!

Jeff Jacobs has been an expert in building brands and brand stewardship for more than 30 years. He’s a staunch advocate of consumer product safety and has a deep passion and belief regarding the issues surrounding compliance and corporate social responsibility. He is the executive director of Quality Certification Alliancethe industry’s only non-profit dedicated to helping suppliers provide safe and compliant products. Follow Jeff on Twitteror reach out to him at [email protected](link sends e-mail).​

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