Today the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) and Health Canada announced a massive joint recall with IKEA involving over 35 million pieces of furniture that can pose a tip over hazard to small children. While we would normally write about the recall itself, a troubling development has caught our attention. A CPSC employee prematurely leaked the recall to staff reporter Tricia Nadolny at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The CPSC and IKEA officially announced the recall this morning, but the Philadelphia Inquirer prematurely broke the story yesterday afternoon. The reporter confirmed in the story that her source works for the CPSC and did not have clearance to discuss the recall publicly. Additionally, the story included quotes from consumer advocates and other interested parties reacting to the recall—indicating that the reporter had the information for a decent amount of time prior to publishing the story.
After the Inquirer article was published, multiple other media outlets began reporting the recall. This likely put IKEA (and the CPSC) in an incredibly difficult situation of having to quickly make decisions about the release of information about the recall. For companies and legal counsel negotiating a recall—especially one of this magnitude—this is a nightmare scenario.
Even if a company has a contingency plan in the event a recall is leaked early (something we usually recommend for higher profile recalls), the carefully negotiated messaging and CPSC agreed rollout of the recall will have been thrown out the window and replaced by the leaked information. The company will be forced to scramble to respond to media questions while also not spoiling the originally planned announcement.
Additionally, and even more problematic, consumers who may have recalled units will start calling and emailing the company before they know the company's official 800 number to call and before the company has sufficient staff to start fielding those calls. With over 29 million units involved in this specific recall, that could add up to quite a lot of phone calls and emails.
There are many compelling reasons why the CPSC and companies agree to not only the content of a recall, but also its timing. For a recall of this magnitude to be leaked to the media is a very troublesome precedent and cause for concern to companies negotiating higher profile recalls with the CPSC. Companies have not historically had much to fear in terms of recall information leaking from the agency, but this development potentially calls that into question.
Not only is it a violation of CPSC's own statutes and regulations for recall information to be prematurely leaked to the press (and potentially could lead to employee sanctions), but it is also potentially disruptive to the effectiveness of the recall itself. The CPSC should take steps to ensure such leaks do not occur in the future.