That President Trump favors the interests of big business over regular people is no secret. He has done away with regulations meant to protect Americans at a wholesale clip. The Obama-era fiduciary standard, designed to protect retirement savers from the financial services industry? Gone. Net neutrality? Poof. Environmental protections big and small? On the scrap heap.
And then his minions tackled infant safety. Talk about family values!
The Post’s Todd C. Frankel tells the tale. The front wheel of the Britax Child Safety’s BOB jogging stroller, according to customers, every so often would suddenly detach from the main frame, sending the stroller and the child in it crashing to the ground, often face first. Over a period of several years, dozens of parents’ and infants’ injuries were reported to regulators.
Britax rejiggered the strollers but refused to go along with a voluntary recall of the older models. When the Consumer Product Safety Commission commenced a lawsuit to force a recall, the stroller company fought back, claiming the problem was a result of improper use. And whaddya know? Trump appointees put roadblocks in the way of their own commission’s lawsuit.
Trump appointees now dominate the agency’s ruling commission. It is headed up by acting commissioner Ann Marie Buerkle, best known for voting against a $15.45 million fine for a company whose humidifiers demonstrated a disturbing tendency to catch on fire, resulting in close to $20 million in property damage. Late last year, a settlement was arranged: Britax would educate BOB owners on how to properly use the stroller via an online video, along with a replacement-part offer — or a less-than-generous 20 percent discount on a new stroller.
Britax released a statement after The Post’s article saying, “we take safety very seriously,” adding, “our decision to not agree to a recall was based on the fact that this product is not defective, and that it is safe when used as instructed.” But fighting a consumer protection agency isn’t exactly on brand for a company that puts safety first. Neither is pinning the blame for the accidents on parents. Now Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) are requesting documentation about l’affaire BOB, wanting to know whether the incident sheds light on Buerkle’s role in “undermining product safety investigations and other potential wrongdoing.”
You have to wonder what executives at Britax were thinking. Senators asking questions about their dealings with a Trump administration appointee is just about the last form of brand awareness they need. The global baby products market is a multibillion-dollar annual business. And strollers have an oversize role in modern parenting culture. Over the past generation, they have gone from a simple necessity to an expression of mom and dad’s personality. There are four-figure luxury strollers, all-terrain strollers, eco-friendly strollers and so on. Britax’s pitch? Safety. It calls itself “The #1 Brand in Safety Technology,” and routinely crows about its high rankings from consumer advocates.
Then again, one of the great lies of our age is that companies will always act in the best interests of their customers, because otherwise shoppers will shun them, and therefore regulations make it harder for companies to prosper for no good reason. But companies put short-term financial interests ahead of their own long-term health and their customers well-being all the time. Look at Boeing, which pushed ahead with a revamped 737 Max jet so that it could compete with rival Airbus. The Federal Aviation Administration, incredibly, allowed the company partial responsibility for certifying the airplane’s computer operating system, blowing off FAA employees concerned with the technology and the process. That system is now suspected of playing a role in two recent airline crashes that killed 346 people.
But the problem isn’t just limited corporate thinking. Our current Republican government, instead of protecting people from harm, is instead enabling and encouraging corporate carelessness. Despite Trump’s claims, government rules don’t exist to keep bureaucrats employed, and they are not designed to strangle business. They keep Americans safe by preventing companies from succumbing to the lure of saving money at the expense of consumers. But thanks to the Trump administration, the wheels are coming off our regulatory structures. We’re all endangered as a result.