On Monday this week, a small article appeared at the bottom of page 3 of the Courier Mail. The article was about Honda having to recall 25,000 vehicles due to defective airbag inflators. If the journalist had not written about this, I may not know about the potentially deadly defect.
This to me creates a conflict. Companies spend tens of $millions on promoting their brand, and advertising with TV ads, and social media posts and blogs trying to grab our attention constantly. But when it comes to a product recall, they do it quietly. Who remembers the Frozen Berries from China infected with Hep A in 2015? Or the Samsung washing machines that were catching on fire in 2013? Or the imported from China electrical cables that were installed in 40,000 homes up to 2013 and at risk of causing an electrical fire. You only heard about these because they became news worthy – you hardly heard about the recalls from the companies themselves.
The ACCC puts out guidelines our how recalls are to be conducted and alerted to the public. In short the standard is a newspaper ad. Not TV or social media. There is no specification where the ad has to be in the paper, other than having a red hatched border with red safety triangle and 10 point font. Hence the ads are often discretely tucked away, thereby causing minimum harm (and publicity) to the companies brand.
In situations where there is a life threatening risk (your house burning down, a child choking on a toy, catching Hep A, or a car crash) it stands to reason that the company should be spending just as much money publishing the bad news as it does the good. But, that is not going to happen. It seems therefor that allowing companies to conduct their own product recall is a conflict and not in consumers best interest.
In Australia we have standards, regulations, and guidelines for pretty much everything. But for product recalls we have very little, there are guidelines but they are not mandatory. Much is left to the companies themselves as to how they identify and locate their customers. There is no standard for recalls or benchmarks for the recall process.
There are two options: either draft a minimum standard that requires TV, social media and online advertising (i.e. not just newspaper) of a product recall – with a rising scale the more deadly the threat the more prolific the amount of advertising. Or allow the regulatory authority to run the ads themselves (with greater funding from government or charge to the company).
The fear of a fully publicised product recall will over time make sure the companies triple test and check their products before launch to avoid any potentially disastrous recalls later on. A self-reinforcing loop will be created, eventually creating greater protection for consumers.