Rise in recalls tied to Twitter

Public use of Twitter and Facebook to warn consumers about dodgy products could be driving the increase in companies issuing voluntary product recall notices, Consumer New Zealand says.

The increase locally has been climbing since 2009, according to advertisements placed in the Nelson Mail.

Consumer NZ editor-in-chief David Naulls said that social media might have prompted companies to recall food and goods deemed to be faulty, because the system relied on their voluntary action.

"It's impossible to order a product recall.

"There is provision for the Ministry [of Consumer Affairs] to order a recall in certain circumstances, but that's not an ordinary course of events," Mr Naulls said.

The independent provider of consumer information was now calling for mandatory standards and a product-safety review to reduce the number of unsafe goods being sold, with priority given to children's goods.

Consumer NZ said mandatory standards of enforcement was the best way to minimise the risk of unsafe goods being sold and would also make it easier to take action against companies which failed to address safety problems.

Research carried out by the organisation found the product recall trend was increasing worldwide, most caused by poor design of goods.

Records dating back to August 2008 when the Mail updated its electronic advertisement booking system show one product recall for maize cornflour from August 1 to December 31 that year.

In 2009 there were 10 items recalled, from food to health and nutrition products and general goods.

In 2010 there were 15 items recalled and last year 28 items, including chocolate, frozen goods, propane cylinders and white chocolate muffins were recalled for reasons, including suspected contaminants in food and faulty mechanical and electronics in goods.

So far this year 20 items have been recalled, from flooring product, scooters, stationery and baby equipment.

Ministry of Consumer Affairs media spokesman Britton Brown said the trend could be linked to recalls these days covering everything from defects with products to quality issues.

He said the ministry had ordered a product recall about "once in the last decade".

"Ninety-nine per cent of recalls are led by suppliers," Mr Brown said.

He said it was also possible the trend was linked to suppliers becoming more aware and issuing notices immediately rather than waiting for word to get out.

Consumer NZ said companies may claim the rise showed they were being more vigilant about product safety, but recalls were no "quick safety fix".

The average recall recovered only about half the goods sold and the success rate was usually a lot lower for cheap products.

Consumer NZ was particularly concerned about the increase in faulty children's products.

Last year there were 20 voluntary recalls in New Zealand of unsafe children's products, which was almost double the rate recorded in 2010.

Strollers, car seats, highchairs, bikes, clothing and toys were among the children's products recalled in 2011.

Of 57 nursery products Consumer NZ tested between 2007 and 2011, a "staggering" 33 per cent had faults it considered to be serious.

The World Health Organisation has flagged product changes as among the most effective measures for preventing injuries to children, and avoiding the associated healthcare costs.

Business professor at Canada's University of Manitoba, Hari Bapuji, who has tracked toy recalls over the past 20 years, said the trend had risen in proportion to the rise of imports from China.

However, many products pulled from the market were designed in the West, and inadequate design was the reason the vast majority of toys were recalled.

Dr Bapuji said China was not to blame, but the increasingly fragmented global supply chains.


Aug 1 - Dec 31, 2008 1 Jan 1 - Dec 31, 2009 10 Jan 1 - Dec 31, 2010 15 Jan 1 - Dec 31, 2011 28 Jan 1, 2012 to date 20

The Nelson Mail