With 'watchdogs' like Nord on the job, who can sleep?

nord.jpgThe Consumer Reports blog had an item about Reebok agreeing to pay a $1 million civil penalty in the case where the young boy died after he swallowed a lead charm that came with a pair of sneakers. The post quotes Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Nancy Nord as saying that “this civil penalty sends a clear message that the CPSC will not allow companies to put children’s safety at risk . . . Preventing dangerous metal jewelry from reaching the hands of children is a priority for our agency” It’s all well and good that the CPSC has shown Reebok the back of its hand, but, all things considered, it amounts to more of a love tap than anything else.

Consider that when Adidas bought Reebok in 2006, it paid $3.8 BILLION for the rival athletic apparel maker.

The death of the Minneapolis boy in 2006 was a precursor of things to come. The charm the boy swallowed, which was given as a free gift with certain pairs of sneakers, was made in China and had parts that were 99 percent lead.

If, as Nord says, preventing dangerous metals, like lead, from reaching consumers is a priority, it has only recently become one. Because despite the lead-poisoning death of Jarnell Brown, the CPSC did not appear to do much to stop the flood of dangerous toys into the country after Jarnell’s death.

There were some 25 million dangerous toys — most of them imported from overseas — that were recalled in 2007. Many of those toys contained dangerous levels of lead. The undermanned and underfunded CPSC was mostly helpless to keep these dangerous toys off our shelves.

Legislation passed by the House and Senate will take steps toward improving the system. But that’s only part of the solution. Rewriting trade pacts that foster the flow of dangerous goods is the also vital.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, testified before Congress in September about the problems and solutions. You can read her testimony here.