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Brussels, 5 June 2008

Product safety: Commissioner Kuneva presents expert report "Evaluating business safety measures in the toy supply chain"

Today in Brussels European Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva presented a report by independent experts entitled "Evaluating Business Safety Measures in the Toy Supply Chain." The Report was carried out at the initiative of the European Commission, as a follow up to the Commission's product safety Stocktaking review in Autumn 2007. The stocktaking was undertaken after a series of high profile recalls to review the strengths and weaknesses of the existing mechanisms to ensure product safety in Europe. The expert report published today, represents the results of a five-month analysis of product safety measures in the toy supply chain. The main conclusion of the research is to underline that product safety cannot be guaranteed by final product testing alone but that it has to be a key part of the "quality culture" of an organisation and needs to be embedded in the entire product supply chain. The evaluation found that Chinese authorities and manufacturers have made significant progress in tackling toy safety concerns. Amongst the key conclusions, the report found that it is the smaller players in the market, such as small European importers and traders and small Chinese manufacturers that tend to be the weak link in the product safety chain. They find it most difficult to fully understand and ensure compliance with the applicable legislation and standards. A second area where weaknesses have been detected is in relation to the expertise available within Member States' enforcement practices and the role of the testing laboratories. The report sets out a series of practical recommendations addressed to each of the stakeholders in the supply chain to strengthen safety controls.

"Despite the many efforts undertaken by the various actors in the toy supply chain, the 2007 recalls and RAPEX notifications show that there are still too many unsafe toys appearing on the EU market" said Commissioner Kuneva." I am delighted to be able to draw on the specialist expertise that has gone into producing this report. I intend to present the key recommendations to the Chinese Authorities during my visit this month (see MEMO/08/365). There are recommendations addressed to all the actors involved in the supply chain. These will be analysed in detail by the Commission and discussed with each of the relevant stakeholder group in the coming months to assess how to move forwards."

Main gaps

The research found that many of the smaller economic operators (whether on the European or on the Chinese side) find it more difficult to deal with safety issues due, amongst others, to a lack of in-depth knowledge of the applicable rules, a lower number of dedicated personnel, and weaker quality management systems and supplier control.

As a result, for many of the smaller operators the Chinese government's export controls, when undertaken, are the only real independent test of the product's safety before being placed on the EU market. In fact, with the strengthening of the controls in China and the importance of the importer in determining safety requirements, the difficulties, especially for smaller actors, to properly address product safety seems to have become one of the main gaps in the toy supply chain.

Furthermore, given the importance of the US market, Chinese producers tend to focus on US regulations and standards, making it more difficult to fully understand the European legislative framework. Finally, regarding market surveillance in Europe, the research found that some enforcement authorities were perceived to lack expertise in toy safety, to the detriment of a level playing field for businesses.

Key conclusions and recommendations

The main conclusion of the evaluation is that product safety cannot be guaranteed by final product testing alone, but has to be embedded in the entire product development and production process. Adopting and maintaining a strong quality and safety culture is a critical element in ensuring continuous attention to product safety issues.

Although the project focused on the toy sector, several of the findings will be pertinent to other product groups as well and will have to be addressed with the relevant sectors directly.

The report presents over 50 recommendations to strengthen the current system for ensuring toy safety, targeting all key actors in the supply chain. To facilitate the process of taking these recommendations forward at European level, the report also recommends establishing a multi-stakeholder forum, building on the work of the expert group, to discuss the practical implementation of the various proposals.

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