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A look at product labelling and warning requirements

One of the things importers (and especially people new to the game) often overlook is the importance of product labelling, especially in regards to consumer safety.

We’ve all seen product warning labels before- some venturing on the absurd in terms of their inherent “no sh** sherlockness”. Now while we can argue the merits of a Starbucks warning label warning that coffee is hot, regardless safety labels can be important for protecting consumers as well as protecting you from an expensive product liability claim that could potentially bankrupt your business and/or you.

I recently had a product liability lawyer review my obligations for a certain type of car rack I was considering importing. Below are some of the takeaways from the consultation. Keep in mind product liability advice is very specific to jurisdiction and product, but there’s some good general advice nonetheless.

  1. Products that are inherently dangerous and/or complex require a higher responsibility from the importer in terms of warning the consumer of any dangers. The dangerous part is fairly common sense. However, the complex part not so much. So for example, a step ladder is a fairly simple product that most everyone knows how to use. ¬†Just because someone might use it as a skateboard ramp doesn’t mean that you have a duty to warn not to use it as a skateboard ramp. This would be considered abnormal use. An exercise treadmill on the other hand, where not everyone has knowledge of, would require more warning to consumers.
  2. If you know there is a specific foreseeable risk with your product you must warn of it. Any product can be misused and it doesn’t mean you need to come up with every conceivable way someone could be an idiot. However, known common misuses you must warn against. Listerine is a popular example. The makers of Listerine know people have ingested it to get drunk and therefore they warn against not doing so.

So what can and should you do when it comes to product warning labels for products you import?

  1. Assume your suppliers will include no warnings.
  2. Review your competitors’ warning labels and liberally “borrow” from them. This is also important because if all of your competitors are warning against drinking mouthwash to get drunk, it makes it tougher to argue that you didn’t know consumers were doing this.
  3. Ensure product warnings are clear to consumers. Putting warnings on your website probably doesn’t suffice. Putting them on product packaging and instructions probably does, and more so if the warnings are actually on the product.
  4. Know your product. The more you know a product the more you can predict and foresee potential dangers.



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  • Reply
    February 28, 2014 at 4:10 pm


    I am a hopeful eventual fashion entrepreneur. I would like to sell clothing via an online store, but I want to design it myself. How does this work when dealing with suppliers? Do I sketch something and then they produce a sample? Do you have any advice for books or other websites that could be helpful with this? Thanks!


  • Reply
    David Bryant
    March 11, 2014 at 3:16 am

    Hi Tina,

    Sorry for the late reply.

    I admittedly don’t have a lot of experience with textiles, but yes, your supplier would want something varying from a simple sketch to a full pattern. If you’re just beginning working with a supplier they’ll likely want more detailed specs rather than risking any errors in interpreting your wants. You’ll likely want to refer to separate books/websites for both producing your own clothing and outsourcing overseas as I’m not sure of any one stop website/book for manufacturing clothing in China.

    I would suggest getting some experience having your clothing produced locally on some small scale before having 10,000 shirts manufactured in China though. Your Chinese suppliers are going to be a lot more prone to screwing up any ambiguities in your design wants than a local supplier.

    • Reply
      August 6, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Good to see a taenlt at work. I can’t match that.

  • Reply
    John D King
    March 27, 2016 at 3:15 am

    Dave, great stuff. When importing items from China, is a UPC mandatory? Are UPC and bar codes mainly for inventory purposes. Out of the 5-7 products I may soon be importing, only two of them will have the possibility of me getting them into large stores. The others, including them too, will be sold online. So would I treat the two “store possible” products differently as far upc or bar code goes? And if so, what is the process for getting a code?

  • Reply
    April 17, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Thank you so much for all your assistants to dummies like me lol.i run a small waist trainer you think we need warnings for product misuse?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      April 23, 2016 at 3:18 am

      It’s normally the safest to err on the side of caution. Any potential misuse that goes beyond common knowledge and sense should have a warning (and that threshold is quite low!)

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