In 2006, Jennifer—the co-founder of popular parenting/consumer advocacy site Z Recommends—took her two-and-a-half-year-old to the bathroom at the local Toys R Us store. What she didn’t know was that this particular store featured the awesome striking power of the Action Toilet Stall with Collapsible Mom Trap! As she closed the door, the entire partition fell over on top of her and her daughter. Jennifer managed to protect her daughter from harm, but in the two years since the event, she’s developed chronic pain from the accident—and the response from Toys R Us has been “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
You may think a veteran consumer advocate would be able to resolve an incident like this with the company fairly quickly, but Jennifer’s experiences over the past two years show just how difficult corporations can be when you try to get them to own up to their responsibility. Just look at how hard they tried to avoid talking to her a few days after the accident:
I left a message with the company’s “Risk Management” office, which didn’t call me back. The next day, I called again and got someone. They assigned me a “file number” and a “case worker,” but told me that the case worker they were assigning me was out on medical leave for an indefinite period. This concerned me, and I protested, but the representative assured that if I needed anything, “anyone who answers the phone will be able to help.”
Later, I received a letter from Toys ‘R’ Us which stated that due to their “inability” to reach me via telephone they were contacting me via letter. My home phone number is a VoIP line, so I logged into my account and checked the incoming calls to my home phone. Not one was identified as coming from Toys ‘R’ Us or the corporate office’s area code.
Now Jennifer is suing Toys R Us (the trial is set for June), and today she’s revealed the details of the accident, as well as the consequences of it on her health.
Being a consumer advocate may not give you an edge in being taken seriously by a corporation, but it does give you the drive you need to publicize a company’s negligence. We can’t wait to see how this develops in the coming months.
If and when we get to trial, I will be not only the plaintiff but a blogger on the scene. Now that we have a court date set, what’s truly ironic is that we have a well-established model for this new project. This is what we do. We gather information, ask probing questions, parse out the answers, publicize our findings, and make an argument for how things should be. We’ve done it with Avent, Playtex, Sassy, Tupperware, Carter’s, and continue to apply pressure to companies to make them change for the better and respond to what they’ve done. We go to trade shows in part to introduce ourselves to new vendors and discover all of the great new children’s products that come online every year. But we also go to put faces to names for people we’ve dealt with over the previous year, and you know what? When we show up at the booth of someone we’ve worked with on a contentious consumer issue, they either groan or cheer. And we like it that way.
The difference, of course, is that it’s personal now – but so is the BPA Dr. Brown’s introduced to Z through her bottles before we knew about endocrine disruptors, or the skin lesions other people’s children suffered from onesies with the same likely chemical formulation our daughter wore, but did not react to, when she was an infant. Compassion means seeing harm to everyone, yourself included, in the harm that is done to others, and we’ve learned that lesson well, both through parenting and through blogging. In fact, I’d say that this merging of personal and social interests is at the heart of advocacy blogging, and we’re ready to show Toys ‘R’ Us how it’s done. Low-level chemical toxicity is an evolving field of knowledge, but basic maintenance is a question of simple procedures and the reinvestment of a modest share of corporate profits to ensure customer safety. It isn’t the sexiest way to spend your company’s money; doing it right means your efforts barely get noticed. But doing it wrong can have deadly consequences.