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John Monk Trading fined $12,000

Media Release

Issued 24 July 2001/85

John Monk Trading fined $12,000 for importing more than 1,500 dangerous toys

The Christchurch District Court today fined John Monk Trading Co Limited $12,000 for importing 1,512 babies' rattles that were a choking hazard to young children.

Commerce Commission Chair John Belgrave said that the rattles, shaped like tambourines, did not meet the product safety standard for toys for children aged up to three. The rattles broke apart easily and released pieces that were choking hazards. The pieces included sharp slivers of plastic and small ball bearings.

Judge Erber said that there is a strong onus on New Zealand importers and suppliers to ensure that goods they bring into the country are safe, and they cannot pass the buck onto overseas manufacturers or retailers they on-sell to.

The rattles were sold through the Just $2 Limited chain in the South Island (please note that this is a separate company from the $2 Stores). The rattles do not have a brand name, and the plastic bag that they were sold in had a cardboard label with "TOYS" printed on it.

The labels also stated: "Warning, choking hazard. The toy contains a small ball. Not for children under three years." A child psychologist examined the rattles and gave an opinion that babies over the age of seven months would be able to hold the rattles and make noise with them. John Monk Trading agreed that the toy was a rattle that would be used predominantly by children under three years old.

Mr Belgrave said that the label highlights an important issue about the standard for toys: it is a safety standard not a labelling standard.

"Simply labelling toys as unsuitable for children under three does not get around the safety standard," Mr Belgrave said. "In fact, the standard doesn't require any labelling at all. It requires that toys are safe for children under three."

The safety standard applies to toys for young children because up to about the age of three children do not have a properly developed coughing reflex. If they swallow or inhale an object that sticks in their throat, then they often do not cough and must be helped before they choke.

The standard prohibits toys, and parts of toys, that fit completely into a measuring cylinder about the size of a 35mm film canister. The standard also includes tests for breakage through use and foreseeable abuse. In this case parts that broke off or came free during testing were too small to meet the standard.

The Commission began its investigation after a complaint from the mother of a young baby. The mother complained that a number of ball bearings had broken off from the rattle.

After the Commission began its investigation John Monk Trading recalled the rattles. About 400 were returned. Consumers who still have the rattles should return them to a Just $2 store for a refund or destroy them.

The Commission did not prosecute Just $2 Limited. Just $2 was fully co-operative with the Commission and, in a settlement, has given signed undertakings including how it will ensure that it does not in future sell unsafe toys.

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