Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reason for alarm

Recently there has been quite a lot of buzz in the babywearing world.  I'm not "in the know" so to speak, but I know people who are in the know and their level of alarm regarding what is happening and what can potentially happen is very alarming.  They can't give me specific details, but I've been watching and frankly, I can see why they are alarmed.  I know enough.

Hotslings, a pioneering babywearing company, closed in August.  Owner Kristen DeRocha, who has been in business since 2003, was and still is an influencial voice in the babywearing world.  She has been active in working with the CPSC to create standards for baby carriers, spearheading the movement and chairing the ASTM Sling Standards subcommittee The fact that she closed her business should be a warning sign for all of us.  But it is only one event leading to what is happening now.

In early 2008, the babywearing world was buzzing with concerns about bag slings.  Basically, when a baby is carried in a carrier that looks like a duffle bag, the baby can be forced into a curled position that can potentially cut off their tiny airway.  And the baby is covered in fabric which makes it hard for the parent to moniter the baby as well as potentially limiting the baby's fresh air supply.  One carrier used in the study was the Infantino Slingrider.  (Great information here)

In March of this year, the CPSC issued a warning about sling carriers for babies.  Also in March, The CPSC Chairman had some strong words of warning in his JPMA Summit Keynote Address.

Regarding all of the 104 rules, it is not the intent of CPSC to write new standards that essentially create a marketplace with no products that can meet the rules. But we will not sacrifice an iota of safety in writing these new rules . . .

. . . One of the products that the Commission has recently added to the list of juvenile products that will be subject to a 104 rule is infant carrier slings. Although a draft mandatory rule is a ways out from being proposed, I want to make a good faith gesture today and give you advanced notice that a general warning is likely to go out to the public very soon.\

We know of too many deaths in these slings and we now know the hazard scenarios for very small babies, so the time has come to alert parents and caregivers. We want to empower them to make a decision that is best for the safety of their baby, while realizing that slings play a role in the bonding of baby and mother in many cultures.

. . . A new Commission that has new powers – and we are not afraid to use them. If you resist our efforts to recall children’s products, be forewarned, this Commission stands ready to be creative in the use of our enforcement authorities . . .
A good faith gesture?  Advanced notice?  Empower them to make good decisions?  New powers they are not afraid to use and use creatively?  I'm not sure what all that means exactly, but it sounds very "politically correct," and "you can pat me on the back again later," especially in context.  I encourage you to read the whole speech.  It kind of made me want to vomit.

In March of this year, the Infantino Slingrider was recalled.  Over one million of the carriers were recalled after three deaths were reported. Infantino will replace the recalled carrier with of of their Wrap and Tie infant carriers (and both versions look suspiciously like a Catbird Baby  mei tai and a Babyhawk mei tai respectively.  But maybe that's just me.). 

Then, in June of this year, a work-at-home-mom had her ring sling recalled (all 40 of them) because in 2007 a ten-day-old baby died in one.  When I read the original recall, I remember being alarmed because it stated that the CPSC, along with "concerned companies such as Infantino," were working to make carriers safer for babies.  Some wonder if the recall notice was simply copied and pasted from the Slingrider recall, which would make it an innocent mistake.  But, others wonder, since Infantino is a very large company with an obvious interest in making the environment for smaller baby and babywearing businesses hostile, if Infantino could have played a more direct role in the recall. 

In July, the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance was formed.  Basically, it's a group of small babywearing businesses banding together "to advance the well-being, growth, and interests of baby carrier manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers, and educators. It does so through advocacy, public relations, information sharing, industry research, and business development assistance conducted with appreciation for the needs of parents, caregivers, and children."  Members of note:  Kristi of Wrapsody by GypsyMama, LLC who spearheaded the forming of the Alliance and recently was recognized for it by Babywearing International.; Vesta Hartman Garcia, founder of and Ellaroo; Beth of Catbird Baby; Jan of Sleeping Baby, Arie of Tadpoles and Butterflies, Paul and Rochelle Price of Slingrings (Rochelle is the new Chairperson of the sling standards ASTM committee) and Kristen DeRocha who started Hotslings.

Hotslings folded in August.  The decision to close Hotslings was directly related to what is going on with the CPSC and the babywearing and baby industry, according to the press release

For months now the BCIA has been warning of an impending recall.  The name of the company affected by the recall has not been released and there also has not been a recall issued.  From the outside, this could appear that the BCIA and others are crying wolf.  But, I beg to differ. 

In the beginning of October, a statement was released by the online forum The It read in part:

A recall of a major baby carrier is being forced through this week. We want you to understand how this has been handled and to appreciate the immediacy of the problem!

Company was informed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that, after several years, a closed investigation of their product was being reopened.

Company was told by the CPSC to issue a recall of every product back more than ten years, and to discontinue sales, while admitting that there is no product flaw.

Company stopped all sales, with the intention of clearing up the matter and reopening shortly.

Company asked for the Health and Science report that the CPSC later claimed to have, indicating the need for a recall.

CPSC has NEVER complied; inside word is that there is NOT a Health and Science report.

Company was sent two draft press releases and asked to voluntarily recall their product or the CPSC would issue a unilateral recall (a forced recall) which included inflammatory language as well as a threat to pursue action against entire class of baby sling products.

Company held fast, knowing that the product is safe and a benefit to babies and stated they would be willing to work with the CPSC on a public education campaign about sling safety.

CPSC asked for Company’s financials.

Company complied.

CPSC said to company “You are no longer in business, we don’t need your cooperation in order to recall! Prepare to DESTROY all product next week!” Next week is International Babywearing week!

The "imminent" recall hasn't happened. Yet.  This could be intrepreted that they are crying wolf.  I interpret that to mean that the BCIA and the people they are working with have so far been successful in holding it off.  However, it could still happen.

At the very least, we need to realize and remember that the folks who are raising the alarm are business people and advocates who are in the know and have a vested interest in the babywearing industry.  They are people we can and do trust with our babies. We have made purchases with them and we go to them for advice and information.  I've interacted with many of them and they are good people with the best interest of you and your baby in mind. 

Also, there is information they have that they are not able to share.  They are not crying wolf.  They are doing what they can with the information they have without sharing information they can't share.  Hotslings closed BECAUSE OF this information.  Others with this information are making changes in how they do business and working to raise awareness the best they can.

Recent announcements of childrens products being recalled because of what "could" happen if the product is used improperly instead of a recall based on solid evidence that it is actually a dangrous product may be a ridiculous show by someone (who may have been quoted above) and some "concerned" company (that may also have been mentioned above) working to make a name for themselves and working to make competition go away any way they can rather than working to actually make products better and safer and the world a better place for both babies and their caregivers.

It's all fishy to me.  And it seems to be going against what Chairman Tenenbaum said in his speech about "empowering " parents and caregivers to make decisions that are best for the safety of their children.  It appears to me that they are making that decision, and so many others, for us for their own benefit and touting it as something else.

For example, check out these recent recalls of childrens' products:

Fisher-Price Recalls Children's Trikes Due to Risk of Serious Injury: 7 million units sold, 10 reports of injury

Valco Baby Recalls Jogging Strollers Due to Strangulation Hazard:  The opening between the grab bar and seat bottom of the stroller can allow an infant’s body to pass through and become entrapped at the neck by the grab bar, posing a strangulation hazard to young children when a child is not harnessed.  (my emphasis)

Graco Recalls Quattro™ and MetroLite™ Strollers Due to Risk of Entrapment and Strangulation:  About 2 million sold.  Four reported deaths and six reported incidents inovlving eintrapment.  "Entrapment and strangulation can occur, especially to infants younger than 12 months of age, when a child is not harnessed." (my emphasis)

Rumor has it that the CPSC is currently being investigated because of the attempted forced recall of the baby carrier.

Power corrupts.  Money corrupts.  Evidence seems to point to the CPSC and "concerned" companies such as Infantino are making a run to destroy the beautiful and beneficial practice of babywearing here in America and limit our choice of quality carriers.  Be alarmed.  Let's not let them get away with it.

What can you do? 

  • You can support the BCIA.  Join for as little as $25. 
  • If you can't join, simply donate.  They need both members and funds to fight the fight. 
  • Contact your elected officials and tell them what you think!
  • Share your babywearing story
  • Spread the word.  Blog it.  Tell your friends.  Tell your friends friends.  Tell their mothers!
  • Educate yourself regarding safe babywearing and safe carriers. 
  • Support the people and businesses fighting the fight. 
  • Tell the "mom and pop" businesses you know of TO BE ALARMED!  Sprout Stuff only sold 40 carriers.  She may have had good intentions, but she became an example of what can happen.  Small shops who don't know about all this are easy targets for something this big and they are a danger to themselves and to the industry in general.
  • Encourage your friends to buy from reputable business that offer a quality product and know how to use it.  Paying for a good carrier is always worth the money.  All carriers are not created equal. 

Go fight the good fight.

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