The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has announced that retailer Ross Stores has agreed to pay a $3.9 million fine for repeated violations regarding the sale of children's apparel with drawstrings. Ross had previously paid a $500,000 penalty for selling the banned items between 2006 and 2008. The CPSC contended that the store "knowingly failed to report" that it sold about 23,000 kids' jackets and sweatshirts with drawstrings at the neck and waist from January 2009 to February of last year.
"Regardless of what Ross' management may have wanted to believe about the effectiveness of their policies, they clearly did not work," CPSC Chairman Inez M. Tenenbaum wrote in a statement. "Moreover, the fact that Ross did not design, manufacture, or import the garments did not relieve it of the obligation to ensure that they comply with all applicable safety statutes and regulations."
Guidelines regarding drawstrings in children's upper garments were first issued by the CPSC in February 1996. "The apparel industry, and not just Ross, suffers from a consistent ignorance of the drawstring regulations," said Leeton Lee, vice president of regulatory compliance and general counsel for Top 40 supplier ETS Express (asi/51197). "This is despite all the recalls, articles in trade magazines, compliance manager oversight, and children's product buyers and designers who do know better and refrain from using drawstrings in their products."
Other similar civil penalties from the CPSC were for less than a million dollars, but Lee believes this penalty was so high because of Ross' repeat violations. "I believe the CPSC acted prudently and reasonably in this case," Lee said, "given the extent of Ross' knowledge of its violations, how much time went on during their knowledge, the high severity of the risk of injury, and the size of its business."
The CPSC says that in addition to paying the fine, Ross has agreed to maintain a compliance program including written standards, confidential employee-reporting of compliance questions or concerns and a system of internal controls and procedures for reporting to the CPSC.