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Manufacturers of Kids' Clothing Ignore Drawstring Guidelines

Apr 4, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Yesterday, Brents-Riordan Inc. LLC, of Shreveport, Louisiana, recalled 7,400 hooded youth sweatshirts and jackets because the hoods have defective drawstrings that pose a strangulation hazard in children.  The recall was important for a number of reasons.  The drawstring violation has become routine in recall alerts, even though there is an 11-year old voluntary standard that instructs manufacturers not to use drawstrings in the neck area of children's outerwear and to ensure waist drawstrings are of a certain length, have no toggles or knots, and are sewn in the back so they are secure to the garment and can not move.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has guidelines along these same lines for manufacturers and at least two states, Wisconsin and New York, have made the standard mandatory.

Manufacturers and retailers are not complying and since April 1 of last year, there have been 17 recalls of more than 190,000 units of children's clothing because of hood or waist drawstring issues. The manufacturers and retailers involved include major name brands such as The Gap, Old Navy, Nordstrom's, Sears, and K-Mart.  Although no injuries were reported in these 17 cases, there have been significant injuries because of this issue in the past.  From January 1985 through January 1999, the CPSC received reports of 22 deaths and 48 non-fatal entanglement incidents involving drawstrings on children's clothing.

Gap, Inc. owns Gap and Old Navy and Sears Holding owns Sears and K-Mart.  When asked why these merchants have been unable to meet the safety mandates for these children’s clothing items, Gap spokesman Bill Chandler said as a policy, the company requires suppliers to test all apparel in independent labs that are chosen by Gap to ensure their products meet all safety standards, including the drawstring safety standard. The two cases involving Old Navy and Gap Outlet were the result of human error, he said.  Sears spokeswoman, Kimberly Freely, declined to comment.  Nordstrom spokesman, Michael Boyd, said his company does require manufacturers to meet safety standards, including the voluntary drawstring standard.  Nordstrom is reviewing how the items that were later recalled reached the marketplace. "We do take the issue of product safety very seriously," he added.

The CPSC can act if it sees voluntary standards being ignored; however, the beleaguered agency currently faces certain limitations, especially giving that they do not, and have not had, a complete quorum for some time now.  This situation will likely not change until Congress completes work on product safety reform legislation and the president signs it into law.  The commission, however, delegated enforcement powers to the compliance staff prior to when the quorum expired this February.   In the meantime, the CPSC recommends removing drawstrings in the hood or neck area of children's jackets, sweaters, and sweatshirts.

If you spot clothing you think may be a hazard, be sure to notify the retailer and the CPSC.  In 2006, a lawyer for Consumers Union spotted children's sweatshirts with drawstrings while on vacation.  Her tip to the CPSC led to a recall.


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