Linda Sanchez v. Bart Simpson
Fair trade champion Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) is pushing a bill that would grant U.S. consumers and states greater power to serve legal papers on foreign manufacturers that sell defective products in the U.S. market. As we documented last year, foreign producers can rarely be held liable for damages they cause U.S. consumers, a reality not helped by WTO rules and that has promoted offshoring of U.S. jobs and importation of unsafe products. As Ed Mierzwinski from PIRG put it in his testimony for Sanchez's subcommittee (also on our behalf):
By making it easier to hold foreign wrongdoers accountable, your bill would help consumers gain access to justice and also help equalize pressure on U.S. firms that may bear unequal treatment under our laws.
Of course, your bill importantly does not eliminate any responsibility or liability for U.S. manufacturers, importers, distributors, or retailers. It simply makes it easier for consumers to obtain redress from foreign manufacturers. All wrongdoers should always be held accountable.
Last year, for example, Mattel used what I call the Bart Simpson defense (“I wasn’t there, I didn’t do it, and it’s not my fault”) when it initially blamed a third-party Chinese supplier for failing to follow its lead paint requirements on a toy that was later recalled.8 Mattel, of course, under the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, violated U.S. law by entering the banned hazardous substance into U.S. commerce. It trusted, but failed to verify. Mattel would still face liability even if one of its third-party foreign suppliers also did under your act...
Unfortunately, globalization has provided too many firms in the global supply chain with the wrong incentives: they want to cut corners, they want the cheapest supplier, they don’t do third party testing and they use cheaper, dangerous chemicals instead of safe ones. This has placed consumers worldwide at risk. By strengthening U.S. product safety laws and strengthening the ability of U.S. consumers to seek redress from more wrongdoers, actions by U.S. policymakers can benefit all consumers worldwide, since it will ultimately be more efficient for manufacturers and retailers to supply everyone to meet U.S. levels of safety rather than face U.S. levels of liability.