No company issued more children's product recalls in the past five years than Target (TGT). But some of the numbers revealed in recall notices may say more about a company's safety philosophy than just how many recalls they've undertaken.
Target issued 24 recalls of children's products between 2009 and 2014, accounting for 4.8 million units, according to an analysis by the safety advocacy group Kids in Danger. Those 24 recalls were preceded by a total of 106 incidents and 30 injuries.
That's in contrast to Mattel's (MAT) Fisher-Price, which had the second-most recalls in that time frame. Prior to its 19 recalls, involving about 9.3 million units, Fisher-Price received reports of 828 incidents involving 130 injuries. A major contributor to those numbers: The recall of the Rock 'N Play infant sleeper stemmed from 600 complaints of mold that resulted in 16 babies receiving medical treatment.
The U.S. product safety system is largely based on self-reporting. It's up to companies to alert the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as soon as they've identified that a product has a safety issue.
These are the requirements for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers to alert the CPSC:
- When a defective product could create a substantial risk of injury to consumers.
- When a product creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.
- When a product fails to comply with an applicable product safety rule.
- When there's an incident in which a child chokes on a small part in a toy or game and either dies, is seriously injured, stops breathing or requires medical treatment.
Here are the companies that reported the most child product recalls between 2009 and 2014 and the number incidents and injuries, according to Kids in Danger:
- Target, 24 recalls, involving 106 incidents and 30 injuries
- Fisher-Price, 19 recalls, involving 828 incidents and 130 injuries
- Dorel Juvenile Group, 11 recalls, involving 808 incidents and 10 injuries
- IKEA, 11 recalls, involving 55 incidents and 12 injuries
- Pottery Barn Kids, 11 recalls, involving 86 incidents and 17 injuries
- Walmart (WMT), 11 recalls, involving six incidents and two injuries
Most recalls fall under the first two categories, both of which have some degree of subjectivity. What is a "substantial" risk? What is an "unreasonable" risk?
It's up to the CPSC to investigate whether a company violated the reporting requirements. When it suspects such a violation, it begins an often years-long process of negotiating a resolution.
Pottery Barn Kids parent company Williams-Sonoma (WSM), for instance, last year agreed to pay a $700,000 penalty after being accused of delaying a recall of window shades with inner cords the company issued in 2009.
Safety advocates praise companies that err on the side of caution -- issuing recalls (which often simply involve replacing or adding a part) soon after first hearing of any sort of incident or injury that could fall into those categories.
Walmart, for instance, could be viewed as the most proactive of the group -- in some cases issuing recalls for products that the company itself identified as having issues rather than waiting for even a single consumer complaint.
On the flip side, it's not unusual for companies to hold off issuing recalls until the products at issue are no longer being sold regardless of how many complaints came in. That's because recalling a product that is still being sold is far more costly.