Tesco: Why the Double Standard?

Mr S M Mohamed Idris demontrating the safety cap on other brand toilet cleaner.

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is disappointed with Tesco’s practice of double standard in packaging some of their products. Our market survey found that the safety aspect of Tesco merchandise sold in Malaysia is not of equivalent standard to the one sold in the United Kingdom (UK).

Tesco toilet bowl cleaners without child resistant caps.

CAP had received a complaint regarding the sale of Tesco brand toilet cleaners in unsafe packaging whereby the item sold in Malaysia lacks child-resistant cap unlike the UK equivalent.  A check on several other brands on the shelves found that these products come with such child-resistant packaging.

We are dismayed that the multinational company which also retails its own merchandise in its outlets in Asia and Europe, accords Malaysian children a lower standard of care.

Child-resistant packaging, in this case by using a special safety cap, is needed to reduce the risk of children being exposed to hazardous products such as disinfectants, household chemicals and cleaning products. The World Health Organization and UNICEF state that child resistant packaging is one of the best-documented successes in preventing accidental poisoning of children.

It is beside the point whether there exists a Malaysian standard for packaging requirements of hazardous household products. The company should practice the same standards as its home country and not use packaging that would otherwise be unacceptable in their home market.

We urge Tesco Stores (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd to recall all hazardous household products that do not have child resistant packaging.  The Malaysian government should also ascertain that safety precautions for hazardous products such as this are prioritized.

We advise consumers to rid your house of chemical cleaners and use natural or alternative ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, lemon juice or citric acid to keep your toilet bowls clean.

Press Statement, 23 September 2016

Kudos to the police department over ‘explosive act’

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) congratulates the Police Department for wanting to take tough action against fire crackers and fireworks offenses.

It was reported that Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said that the police will be coming hard on those in possession of such explosives in violation of Section 8 of the Explosives Act 1957. They can be, if convicted, imprisoned for up to seven years, fined RM10,000 or both.

He also pointed out that the police is empowered to “enter or board and search any house, premises or other buildings or place or any vehicle, vessel or aircraft specified in the warrant and to search all persons found therein and thereon”.

Tough police action is timely, particularly during the festive season, when needless tragedies become an annual occurrence, potentially maiming or killing people who played with such explosives.

On an annual basis, CAP has repeatedly over the past 30 years urged the Government to increase its enforcement of the firecracker ban. CAP has even called for the inclusion of explosive fireworks under the ban because of the obvious danger they pose. Our calls made in the interest of safety and health of Malaysians appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

The affordable and easily obtainable firecrackers and fireworks today prove that the law is not effectively enforced and not being taken seriously by the offenders.

CAP’s survey on this issue has found that these contrabands are sold openly in areas such as Bayan Baru, Jelutong, Ayer Itam, Lip Sin, Sungai Dua, Pulau Tikus and Komtar. The price ranges from RM 10.00 to RM 40.00 per bundle of firecrackers and some fireworks even up to RM 100 to RM 200. More shockingly is that some teenagers are also seen to be selling these contrabands.

It is also pertinent for the laws to be amended to also include the following:

1.      A mandatory jail sentence for smugglers including the confiscation of his or her property and assets;

2.      The vehicle in which the contraband is found should be confiscated and auctioned off.

Apart from being a nuisance to the public, these potential firebugs have also caused damage to life and property. Those children who lost their life or limbs because of a moment of ‘joyful’ celebration should not be forgotten either because they have to live with it for their rest of their lives.

Therefore, CAP also welcomes the Police’s promise to haul in the parents who buy or allow their children to play with fire crackers. They may have to serve seven years prison term if convicted.

CAP finds that the enforcement of existing Acts and Regulations as the problem, not that we lack of one. Therefore, any desire to execute whatever is in our legislation is definitely a big step forward in the right direction.

Press Statements, 23 June 2016

Cooking gas cylinder safety should be taken seriously

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Like electricity, cooking gas or Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) should be considered a dangerous utility that needs to be treated with maximum caution. The government should treat this matter with utmost urgency and ensure that all gas cylinders and accessories sold are certified safe and consumers are provided safety education which is currently absent.

Safety at the bottling plant, as well as during distribution and use by consumers should never be compromised at anytime. In Malaysia gas leaks causing explosions have resulted in numerous injuries and deaths over the years.

What are the responsibilities for distributors and retailers of cooking gas sold in cylinders or bottled gas as known in the industry? Who is responsible to ensure that cylinders supplied to consumers are safe and not leaking? Which is the regulating body?

It is also not clear which is the agency responsible for testing the cylinders periodically and certify them as safe. What is the life span of a cylinder and the valve? What is the recommended life span of a regulator set? The expiry date of these items should be embossed on the items.

There are so many questions that demand answers. And the big question is what consumers should do in the event of an emergency such as a gas leak or explosion?

The leak can occur at the cylinder valve or in the connecting rubber hose or at the oven valve. Each type of leak needs to be treated differently. The only information that is available is a cautionary statement on a small round card attached to the cylinder head which is of no practical help.

Cooking gas has been in widespread use by consumers in Malaysia for more than 50 years and this is all the education that consumers get. Almost every household has one or two cylinders in the kitchen. Are consumers expected to learn from trial and error? Gas is one utility where we cannot afford to make any mistakes.

CAP had a hard time trying to gather information on regulatory and safety matters related to gas cylinders and accessories. There are many government agencies linked to the gas industry in Malaysia but no single agency is in a position to provide complete and intelligible information. Everything is so shady.

CAP calls on the relevant authorities to take the following measures without further delay:

1. Provide safety procedures on cooking gas use and during emergencies. Such information should be made freely available to the public through various means, including briefings  at all community centers;

2. Make it mandatory for cylinders to carry the expiry date of the cylinder, valve, hose and regulator. Ensure that all parts including the rubber O-ring conform to Standards;

3. Establish an agency for testing the cylinder and other items;

4. Establish a regulator for the industry.

Press Statement – 20 February 2014

An effective product recall mechanism badly needed

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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.

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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.

Don’t mull over tougher measures on fireworks – jail the culprits!

The Consumers’ Association of Penang congratulates the Customs and Excise Department and the Police for the intensive nationwide crackdown on the smuggling and sale of fireworks and firecrackers.

This clearly shows that if enforcement is beefed up, smuggling of such contraband can be curbed.

In a media report today, the Customs Department intelligence Director, Datuk Ismail Ibrahim was quoted to have said that a heavier penalty, instead of the usual RM100 minimum compound for those caught for fireworks offences, will act as a deterrent.  CAP fully supports this long overdue move.

For more than two decades, CAP has been calling on the authorities to impose heavier penalties on offenders including jail sentences.

The ever occurring and increase in incidences of smuggling, distribution and the sale of firecrackers and fireworks can only be stopped through strict enforcement and with the cooperation from the public not to buy the contraband.

Under section 4(2) of the Explosives Act 1957, anyone found to be manufacturing, possession or importing firecrackers and fireworks can be jailed not less than five (5) years or fined RM10,000 or both.

The violation of the existing laws to curb the blatant smuggling, distribution and sale of the contraband is obviously not taken seriously by the offenders.

Hence, the laws should be amended to also include the following:

1. A mandatory jail sentence for smugglers including the confiscation of his or her property and assets;

2. The vehicle in which the contraband is found should be confiscated and auctioned off.

The peoples’ brave, open and free indulgence in playing with firecrackers and dangerous fireworks also goes to show that the police are unable to stop them.  Firm action should also be taken against people caught playing with the firecrackers and fireworks.  Hefty fines and jail sentences should be imposed on retailers and people caught playing with the firecrackers and fireworks.  Parents whose children are caught buying and playing with firecrackers and fireworks must be made responsible for their children’s acts.

Neighbourhood watch groups to report on activities in their area should be formed.  People should not be afraid to report on their neighbours if they are found to possess this banned contraband.

Letter to the Editor – 26 August 2010