An effective product recall mechanism badly needed


Many millions of cars, food and dangerous consumer products are recalled overseas every year. But we hardly see recalls in Malaysia. Why?

Recall of products to protect consumers from risk of injury or death is a common phenomenon in Japan, USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Special agencies dealing with recalls provide consumers and businesses with detailed information on product safety, recalls and recall alerts through their websites. In Malaysia, recalls are few and far apart and often kept low profile and consumers are kept in the dark most of the time.

We have companies that are carrying out recalls on their own products. Honda. Toyota, Hewlett Packard, etc have their own voluntary recalls occasionally, initiated by their headquarters overseas. Then we have recall guidelines for food, health and cosmetics products. But what about the thousands of other products in our market, many of which do not even have certification?

There is a provision in the Consumer Protection Act 599, 1999, Section 23, which spells out that on the recommendation of the Controller, the Minister may give the order to publish in the Gazette, declaring any goods or class of goods which may be deemed unsafe and require the supplier to recall the goods.

Such a cumbersome and complicated procedure could take months before a supplier would be able to recall his goods, by which time many consumers could become victims. This may be one reason why recalls are hardly heard of in Malaysia.

Since 1999, when this Act was passed till now, only one order has been issued under Section 23 of the Consumer Protection Act 599 for recall. Therefore, it is vital and urgent that we need a new separate Act to deal with recalls.

That there are few recalls in Malaysia does not mean that our products in the market are of high quality, safe and reliable. On the contrary, our markets are flooded with substandard goods of all categories, imported as well as locally manufactured. The authorities are aware of their existence but prefer to close one eye.

New and innovative household electrical appliances are appearing in the market everyday. Many of them do not bear any SIRIM labels, but the relevant authorities when contacted by CAP are unable to come up with proper explanation as to why they are not certified, even though in one case, the product caused a fire in the owner’s house.

The typical reaction of manufacturers and retailers when they are informed about any defects in their products is to immediately lay the blame on the consumers for mishandling or poor maintenance, without even carrying out proper investigation or providing proper in-depth report to support their claims.

Often consumers are intimidated by suppliers and accept what they are told. The vast majority of Malaysian consumers are unaware of consumer rights and give up seeking redress.

The relevant ministries and government agencies in the country are of no help either. They respond to complaints at their own leisure and give replies that amount to nothing. The result is that manufacturers and retailers become bolder and continue with their unscrupulous ways at the expense of the consumer.

The authorities need to set up an agency that will create a database of defective products and advise consumers on the harm relating to the products. A tracking system has to be established so that the origin of the defects may be traced to the defective sub-assembly or component supplier and country of origin. Manufacturers should be liable and imposed a penalty should their products be proven to be unsafe and no corrective action or recall is undertaken.

In 2007, Mattel was fined $2.3 million when toys were found to contain high levels of lead in the paint. Eventually 20 million toys had to be recalled worldwide and the co-owner of the off-shore plant committed suicide.

In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has the authority to regulate the sale and manufacture of more than 15,000 different consumer products. They even help to educate manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers to recognise potentially hazardous consumer products at an early stage and take corrective action. The agency maintains a consumer hotline and website through which consumers may report concerns about unsafe products or injuries associated with products.

CPSC also operates an electronic surveillance system which collects data on consumer product related injuries, treated in emergency rooms at hospitals and can be used to generate national estimates.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) deals with vehicle recalls in the US. There is also the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for matters related to food and health products.

Likewise in the UK the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency deal with the majority of the recalls in the country.

Malaysian consumers have been taken for granted and cheated by manufacturers and retailers for far too long, because the authorities have been pandering to the business communities all this while. Therefore, CAP urges the government to carry out the following:

> Enact a new Act exclusively to deal with recalls.

> Set up exclusive and independent agencies to cater to recall activities in line with the CPSC and NHSTA in the US.

> Put in place penalties for violations by manufacturers and suppliers.