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Move to Change CPSC Rule Imperils Sensitive Manufacturer Information

Consumer advocates are making serious headway in their efforts to repeal a section of the Consumer Product Safety Act designed to protect the proprietary information of manufacturers.

Section 6(b) of the 2011 consumer protection law attempts to answer a difficult question: Who gets the first right to announce a product issue, the retailer or the manufacturer? As written and enforced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the answer is the manufacturer.

All you likely need to know about what Section 6(b) means for companies is available in a CPSC fact sheet here.

Growing pressure from consumer groups and parent organizations has begun drawing a response from the CPSC. Commissioner Elliot Kaye declared at a recent Congressional hearing, “People die because of [Section] 6(b).” That’s a bold statement, one with which more than a few members of Congress agree. Even if the effort to repeal rule 6(b) is unsuccessful, you can count on CPSC to feel pressure from those same groups to narrow the application of the law in the name of consumer safety.

As this pressure mounts and with an upcoming change in CPSC leadership, companies need to be ready to protect their reputations in the event that potentially damaging information without adequate context is shared with consumers.

The CPSC could set out to make a strong statement that forces the release of more information about possible safety risks to consumers, particularly if they impact the most vulnerable populations, such as children. That’s not to say the commission would release specific information about the number of injuries or deaths, but it likely will find a way to warn consumers of potential risks affecting specific products or even entire product categories without permission from the manufacturer.

There’s also another new risk to companies: a data breach, perhaps with a Wikileaks-style drip of secrets. We know the CPSC has been breached already; it notified a number of companies of an inadvertent exposure of their information on April 15th of this year. While we haven’t seen much else in the way of accidental or leaked information from the commission, last April’s breach serves as a reminder of how easily sensitive information can get in the wrong hands or into the public domain.

In this age of transparency and viral social media attacks, companies must think about how they will respond when their most sensitive product-safety information becomes public, either through stricter application of consumer protection laws or damaging leaks of proprietary information. Does your product have a strong safety record? Have you acted quickly enough to

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