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Congress Investigates How Fisher-Price and Mattel Ignored Safety Warnings and Continued to Sell Sleeper Linked to Dozens of Infant Deaths

Multi-Billion-dollar corporations apparently can’t be trusted to put our children’s safety before their bottom lines.

By Noah Streng

In June, the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing to investigate the deaths of more than 50 infants who died while sleeping in a Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper. For more than 10 years, Fisher-Price and its parent company Mattel made more than $200 million selling this product, marketing it as appropriate for infant sleep despite repeated warnings from international regulators and public health organizations that it was not safe for sleeping. Nevertheless, the company continued to sell this product in the United States even when other countries declined to sell the product in their country. To date, more than 97 infant deaths have been linked to inclined sleepers, which is the generic name for products like the Rock n’ Play. Fisher-Price did not consult a single pediatrician or conduct a single scientific study to prove the Rock ‘n Play was safe before putting it on the market. Instead, it relied on the word of one doctor, who later lost his medical license.

For years, Fisher-Price and Mattel continued to sell the Rock ‘n Play despite knowing about the rising infant death toll associated with babies sleeping in the product. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) knew of this but was legally prohibited from warning the public about the dangers of the Rock ‘n Play in a timely way.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Oversight Committee, said that Congress must strengthen the nation’s consumer protection laws to ensure that the CPSC, the nation’s chief product safety regulator, has the tools it needs to warn the public about dangerous products as soon as possible and prevent future tragedies like the Rock ‘n Play from happening again. One way to strengthen the law is to allow the CPSC to more easily issue mandatory safety standards that companies are required to follow rather than less stringent voluntary safety standards.

Another legislative fix needed to protect consumers is to repeal Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), a provision of law that prohibits the CPSC from releasing information about product safety hazards which identifies a product or manufacturer without specific permission of the company. Section 6(b) can give corporations like Fisher-Price and Mattel an effective veto on the information the agency releases to the public unless the CPSC takes the company to court. Public Citizen supports immediately repealing Section 6(b).

There’s also more that Congress and the administration can do to protect consumers and their families from unsafe products and corporate actors willing to place profits over safety, policies which were detailed in a memo that Public Citizen and other consumer advocates sent to the Biden transition team last year.

Current law cedes far too much power to corporations while tying the hands of the government agency charged with keeping people safe. Congress must act to give CPSC more powers to better product our families from unsafe products. Nothing less than the safety of our families is at risk.