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'Target' Conned the Public

Import News from the Importers Institute: 'Target' Conned the Public

The Importers Institute accused TV3's Target program of conning the public, knowingly and deliberately, to improve the program's ratings.

The Target TV show tested some clothes for total formaldehyde and then compared the results to other countries' standards for free formaldehyde. A show's producer, Simon Roy said, "Our results were shocking, ranging from 230ppm to 18,000ppm. This is almost unbelievable. Some of the clothes Target tested have a reading 900 times the level that actually causes harm." Mr Roy also said "the wearers of the clothing are effectively being poisoned."

Some consumers were indeed alarmed and returned clothes to retailers. We now know that Target had simply used the wrong tests for total formaldehyde and compared the results with other countries' standards for free formaldehyde. They compared apples with oranges.

At this point, Target had the option of admitting the error and apologising for the hysteria. Instead, the show's producer attempted to spin himself out of trouble by standing by his tests and maintaining that clothes that complied with international standards could still be dangerous. The producer, Laurie Clarke, also claimed that Target had acted in accordance with advice from the testing laboratory.

What Mr Clarke failed to mention is that the laboratory was so concerned with the claims being made to advertise the show before it went to air, that it advised the show's producers in writing that the test results could not be used to substantiate those claims. The hype continued, the show went to air and Mr Clarke kept silent about the smoking-gun memo.

The Retailers Federation then commissioned a set of proper tests for free formaldehyde from three different laboratories. The test found little or no trace of the chemical. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs General Manager, Liz MacPherson said, "Target's tests measured total formaldehyde, meaning free and bound combined. They then compared this with the standards that are set for free formaldehyde only. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs will be using the internationally recognised ISO approved testing methodology for testing formaldehyde in textiles."

The retailers said the country's international reputation has been damaged by false and misleading claims. Target's claims were widely reported throughout the world but now the truth is also being reported. Australia's ABC News reported, "the show's producer Laurie Clarke blamed a lack of time and resources for getting it wrong, but still tried to put a positive spin on things." The Times of India said it all in the headline, "New Zealand TV channel goofed on China cloth test."

We have reached the view that the producers of Target knew, before the show went to air, that their alarmist claims could not be supported by reference to the tests. They also knew that the tests they commissioned could not be compared with the internationally recognised ISO tests.

TV3 advertises Target saying its 'Shame On You' segment "highlights the ridiculous, the unscrupulous and the criminal." The show on formaldehyde was certainly ridiculous and unscrupulous. We say, shame on you, Target.


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