Banned magnet toys

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 Qantas and its duty free supplier fined for selling banned toys

Perhaps the last place you would expect banned toy magnets to be on sale is on an aeroplane. But that’s what happened in 2013 and both Qantas and its duty free supplier, Alpha Flight Services have been taken to court.

Toys that feature strong small magnets are banned in Australia and many other places. Such magnets are known to cause serious internal damage if swallowed.

On 13 January this year, Consumer Affairs Victoria announced the Court’s findings:

  • Qantas was fined $200,000 plus costs
  • Alpha Flight Services was fined $50,000 plus costs

Both companies also had to cover the costs of a consumer recall, destroying the products and other outlays.

The magnets, known as ‘Nano Magnetics Nanodots Onyx/Gold’ were available for purchase on Qantas international flights and via the airline’s ‘In Sky Shopping’ website between August and September 2013.

Federal Court Judge Tony Pagone was critical of both companies in his judgement. But he reserved his harshest criticism for Qantas.

An in-flight surprise

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Toy industry veteran and safety guru, Ian Anderson, spotted the deadly magnets on sale on one of his regular Melbourne to Hong Kong flights.

Mr Anderson reported this to Qantas and was told his feedback would be passed on.

But weeks later Mr Anderson was shocked to see the Nanodots still being sold on flights. He complained again and the products were finally removed.

The fines

Justice Pagone notes that neither Qantas nor Alpha had adequate product safety compliance systems in place before selling the magnets.

But he particularly criticised the airline’s delay in dealing with its non-compliance. Justice Pagone said the airline had shown that as well as an inadequate compliance program, Qantas also had inadequate systems for dealing with complaints. The greater fine for Qantas was largely due to this factor.

Both companies have subsequently implemented product safety compliance programs.

Lessons

A number of points emerge from this story

  • Even if selling consumer products is not your main core business, attention must be paid to product safety compliance. Qantas as an airline, and Alpha as a catering business still have responsibility for their retail sales; they should not assume they have it all under control.All businesses that sell consumer goods need a compliance system in place
  • Make sure you have an effective complaint handling system that is able to respond and escalate product safety reports
  • Retailers can be held as accountable for product safety compliance as their suppliers, and even more so
  • If your passenger manifest includes toy safety gurus, you’d better get your compliance right!

I interviewed Ian Anderson after the court decision. You can view the video and transcript via The Maze blog.