Hi Dave –
Very impressed with your book and website. What a great resource – thanks!
For some time I’ve been thinking of importing Chinese clothes for sale in the UK – however the one thing that concerns me (and I don’t seem to be able to find any information about it) is the requirement for garments to meet British Safety standards – especially in regard to children’s clothes and inflammability. There’s plenty of information as to what the standards are in the UK – but would I need to get all garments individually tested here before putting them on sale and what would my liability be as an importer?
It seems a bit of a minefield so your thoughts would be much appreciated.
Helen's question held some applicability to many importers, even for those not looking to import clothing into the UK. The crux of the question basically dealt with dealing with import requirements for products. Basically Helen's question was two parted:
1) Do I need to submit all the garments for testing, and if so, how do I do this?
2) What liability do I have as an importer if any damage or harm occurs from a product I import?
I am by no means a textiles expert, and especially not an expert in regards to British Textiles law. However, as is usually the case in these types of things, importing rules share some consistency across countries, especially Western nations.
Question 1: Do I need to submit all the garments for fire inflammability testing, and if so, how do I do this?
Rather than bore readers who might not be looking to import children's clothing into the UK, the law in the UK basically said that children's clothing must be tested for inflammability in order to comply with certain British regulations (officially referred to as BS EN 1487).
In these cases, it is almost always easiest to simply find a factory that has already been tested according to these standards. Alibaba is very helpful in the fact that many factories list the certifications that they have. From a quick search on Alibaba I found one factory claiming to have BS EN ISO 12952-1/2:1998 certification.
I'm not an expert by any means on these certifications, but my suspicion is that if Helen found 5-10 factories and asked them if they were certified according to these standards, she would find at least one that was. She would have to be careful that the factory was being truthful and ask for sufficient proof of such certification (If it's claimed in the Alibaba certification section, the chances are strong the Supplier is being truthful but always verify).
In addition to these requirements, there was also several labeling suggestions, i.e. “Keep away from fire” conveniently listed in the document here.
In terms of enforcing these import regulations, my feeling was that the enforcement was generally done at random, meaning she may or may not be asked to supply proof of certification at the time of import. However, by contacting a Customs Broker in the UK, they could likely help Helen to answer this and many more specific questions.
The take away from this all should be that if you're looking to import a product into your particular country, you should first figure out what the requirements are and second find a factory that already has such certifications.
Question 2: What liability do I have as an importer if any damage or harm occurs from a product I import?
I gave a quick overview of this question in my article You, the Importer, Are Responsible.
Basically the answer to Helen's question was very simple: She was completely liable for any harm that occurred from her products.
If the unthinkable happened and a child was harmed from clothing that caught fire, the first person that an attorney would be contacting would be Helen and/or her company. The attorney would also likely be contacting any other party that could have possible liability in this case, mainly the factory in China. However, seeking damages from any company in China can be very difficult, and the brunt of the attention would be on Helen.
Safety standards, while at times burdensome, are ultimately there to protect people. So even if Helen were to have no liability, ultimately no one wants to see another person or child harmed by their product, so every care should be taken to ensure products meet applicable safety standards.