Danish Member of European Parliament (MEP) pushes for action on products on the market that are unsafe for children, despite differing views in the European Parliament
By Emily Dickinson
Photo: Torben Huss, Scanpix
Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose proposed a report to revise directive on product safety within the EU.
The death of a one-year-child in the UK by the accidental strangulation with a curtain cord prompted a Danish MEP to call for a revision of the general product safety directive and market surveillance (GPSD) that included a specific clause for household items potentially dangerous for children.
Social Democrat Christel Schaldemose proposed a report that calls for a revision of the GPSD, that passed by a majority in the European Parliament in the March plenary session.
Although a success for Schaldemose and the Committee of Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), the report did not include the specific child clause.
“There was no majority in the committee for a special clause in safety of products that are child-appealing,” she said.
Members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) parties blocked Schaldemose’s child clause, mainly because of the difficulty in defining what exactly is a child-appealing product, explained Schaldemose.
What is considered child-appealing?
Lindsay Gilbert, ECR advisor for IMCO, said that there is no knowing what a child will find appealing, for example, they could potentially find a knife fascinating.
“We think at this stage a lot more emphasis should be on parental responsibility, rather than defining what appeals to a child because as you can see, we do not think that this is an easy task and we therefore did not consider it appropriate,” she said.
German MEP Jürgen Creutzmann, ALDE, agreed with the ECR position, stating that the problem with child appealing products is that it is “impossible to find a common definition.”
“You cannot make a regulation for every product which is on the market, that’s impossible,” he said. “When you have very little children, the parents have to look to see that there is no danger.”
The case for what’s “child-appealing”
Helen Amundsen, senior technical advisor at the Danish Consumer Council, said that the difficulty in defining a child-appealing product is exactly why the clause is needed.
“Where does the line go? We need the definition,” she said.
Schaldemose defines child-appealing as an item that has shape and colour that children would be attracted to, for example a toaster with a cartoon character on it.
A mother of three, Schaldemose said that this sort of marketing makes children interested in the product that is not meant for children.
“Children will find it interesting to toast bread,” she said.
Toasters like this, that toast bread with pictures of Mickey Mouse on them, could make children think that toasters are toys.
Amundsen said she doesn’t see the necessity in adult products that are marketed for children.
“You don’t need a kitchen machine that has a Mickey Mouse on it,” said Amundsen. “It could make children think a toaster is safe.”
If they are not taken off the market completely, Amundsen suggested making sure these toasters, as well as other products like them, have safety features that would prevent children from harming themselves.
“If you make products more targeted for children, they have to be safer,” said Schaldemose.
The Danish Consumer Council, said Amundsen, supports the revision of the GPSD, and hopes it will include a child safety clause.
Despite the dispute within IMCO, the commissioner present in the debate, Maria Damanaki, expressed her support of the report, and gave hope to the possibility of a child clause.
“Child care needs special attention from us,” she said.
Schaldemose said, however, the child clause would likely face fierce opposition in parliament.
Not child-appealing, but still dangerous
Despite seven child deaths in the UK, blinds cannot necessarily be categorized as a child-appealing product, explained Schaldemose.
She suggested a database that will keep a record of accidents that happen with specific products that are not necessarily child-appealing but still cause harm or death, so that the design can be reconsidered if there is a trend.
If there had been a database that recorded the incidents with the blinds in the UK, more parents could have prevented their children’s death, said Schaldemose.
“Everyone knows a knife is dangerous, but not all know that blinds are,” she said. “I don’t suggest banning blinds in general.”
She insists, however, that a database would have put pressure to make these blinds safer, quicker.
Although Creutzman does not support the child clause, he agrees that a database can be used to deal with each individual problem product separately.
“It’s clear that you cannot bring on the market a product that is not safe,” he said. “When you see a product can be a problem for a child, this problem should be solved individually.”
The Danish position
Jan Roed, head of the department of international coordination at the Danish Safety Technology Authority, believes that the revision of GPSD needs firm requirements regarding traceability and surveillance of products, he said.
Denmark is in the process alone with 12 other European countries, he said, of finalizing a report to monitor and identify parameters of what makes a product child appealing. The result is a tool that systematically is able to score the parameters and indicate if a product is child appealing. It is the aim that all EU countries as well as some non-EU countries will use the tool if it is accepted by the Commission and in the Parliament, Roed explained.
He supports EU harmonization, as “The more equal rules we have, the easier it will be to convince importers we have a problem if a product is child-appealing,” he said.
Photo: Emily Dickinson
Making the same rules apply to all 27 countries will make things easier and more comprehensible, but opposing MEP views will make it a challenge.
Safety of blinds
Schaldemose said that in addition to harmonization of safety standards in the designs, if a product can cause harm to a child, at the very least, there needs to be a warning label.
“The consumer safety authorities should have been a bit quicker in requiring warnings to be put into onto blind packaging as well so that when blinds are installed, you give the users a warning to ensure they don’t put children’s cots within close reach of a blind, so they can actually reach up and get themselves caught and trapped in the cords,” said Chair IMCO and British MEP Malcolm Harbour (ECR).
There is now a design standard for blinds that has been adopted in the EU, explained Harbour.
“(The blinds) have to have a snap release so if you put any tension on the cord, it snaps apart.”
But there are many products on the market, child-appealing or not, that can cause children harm, and Schaldemose said she will propose the child clause to the Parliament again, despite it being rejected by the consumer committee.
“I really will be able to say I made a difference and be able to say that I prevented children from dying,” she said. “And that’s important.”
- Christel Schaldemose’s report on revision of the GPSD passed with 628 votes in parliament, 11 votes against and 7 who abstained from voting entirely.
- The GPSD is part of a greater effort by the Parliament’s Internal Market Committee to make consumer rights more comprehensible and harmonized throughout the EU.