Product Liability

Like US, EU fights rising tide of dangerous Chinese-made products

RAPEX, the European Union’s rapid alert system for dangerous consumer products (excluding food, pharmaceutical, and medical devices), released its annual report of the most dangerous products flooding the European market, and Chinese-made products top the list. Although this isn’t the first time made-in-China has dominated RAPEX reports, the findings indicate the problem is growing in Europe as rapidly as it is in the United States.

It’s no secret that products manufactured in China consistently pose more dangers to consumers than domestically manufactured goods. Poisonous lead paint in children’s toys, toxic cadmium in jewelry, lethal melamine in pet food and baby formula, corrosive drywall – these just some of the Chinese-made products that have harmed consumers in the last couple of years. Other Chinese products may be dangerous for their lack of quality and craftsmanship, such as all-terrain vehicles with serious, life-threatening defects.

Like the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, RAPEX alerts the public when it finds a potentially dangerous product on the market – items that pose a considerable safety or health risks to consumers. When a product such as a toy or household appliance is found to be dangerous, the appropriate action is taken by the EU nation’s appropriate agency to eliminate the risk. The product may be withdrawn from the market, recalled from consumers, or warnings and advisories may be issued.

RAPEX found that the most dangerous Chinese imports last year were children’s toys. Electronics, motor vehicles, clothes, and textiles also topped the list, presenting a spectrum of hazards from chemical poisoning, striking and falling injuries, choking, electric shock, and strangulation.

Of the dangerous products identified in the European Union last year, 66 percent originated in China – a 7-percent increase from 2008. John Dalli, EU Commissioner of Health and Consumer Policy, warned that if the trend continued at the same pace, by the end of 2010, that percentage of dangerous products would grow to 70 percent.

RAPEX instituted a system that facilitates the trade of information between the EU and Chinese authorities called the RAPEX-CHINA system. With this system, authorities in Europe can quickly notify officials in China about Chinese-made products that have been deemed dangerous, recalled, withdrawn, or banned from the European market. Unfortunately, the system has had little impact over the years. European authorities, like their U.S. counterparts, often find their concerns fall on deaf ears in the world of Chinese politics and business.

According to John Dalli, “[the EU] can’t order the closure of factories in China. We are going to continue to explain that we want them to intensify their vigilance.”

The European approach to the problem is much the same as America’s: lackadaisical in the interest of preserving sound trade relations and domestic business interests.

However, European and American companies that order the manufacture of, import, or distribute harmful Chinese products can — and ought to be — held accountable by the consumer, especially by those consumers who are harmed by the product. Personal injury and wrongful death attorneys help victims of poorly made products collect compensation for their injuries and suffering, and in doing so, fulfill regulatory and enforcement roles that government agencies often fumble.