Thursday, March 18, 2010

To recall or not to recall ?

"To recall , or not to recall; that is the question". With due apologies to Shakespeare, this could very well be the modern day conundrum for businesses. The travails of Toyota , with its recalls, are very well known. What prompted this post is the news of recall of 1.2 million high chairs (the sort you strap your child to), because they could pose a fall hazard to children.

Readers of this blog know well that this writer is an opinionated individual, prone to verbal excesses and assumes a god given right to hold a point of view on any subject under the sun. The less he knows about a topic, the more strident is his opinion ! For a change, here is a topic on which he confesses to not being sure about; hence both sides of the coin in this post.

The case in question is about high chairs produced by a certain manufacturer in the US. Apparently the risk is that "screws holding the front legs of the high chair can loosen and fall out" and cracking plastic brackets can cause the high chair to "tip over unexpectedly." No less an august body than the The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued this opinion. The company is complying. A million plus high chairs are being recalled.

In today’s world, at the slightest hint of a product risk, companies have to run like Usain Bolt and announce a global product recall. Otherwise they will be accused of negligence and delay in recalling and get sued. They will hauled in front of US Congress / British Parliament / Lesotho’s Politburo and bullied by the revered elected representatives.

The case for – There can be no compromises on product safety. Period. A dangerous product has to be removed from the market, before it can do more harm. It is because this requirement is so stringent that product safety features have gone up a thousand fold. Consumers can now trust and buy a product knowing that it won’t be unsafe or do them physical harm. It is better to be safe than to be sorry; so at the first whiff of a problem, get it out of the market. Speed is essential – else companies and regulatory authorities can spend months or years debating about the issue and the risk continues. How many injuries should happen, or lives lost, before the action is taken ??

The case against – There is no such thing as a risk free world. It is the inherent nature of screws that they can loosen. In this case there have been 24 reports of scratches, bumps and bruises. Does that justify 1 million chairs to be recalled. There will always be the odd circumstance in any product where potentially something unsafe could happen. Does it mean that at the first whiff, you first recall and argue later. Recalls are incredibly expensive – at the end the consumer pays for all this as there is no free lunch. If there is a genuine and widespread safety fear, the product must be recalled. But not at the first scent of scaremongering.

Which is right ? I don’t know. Would you like to throw some light ?