WASHINGTON — If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.
The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.
Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.
Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.
Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn’t be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches.
We’re not looking to come across as being heavy-handed,he said.We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we’re still going to enforce.
Like most invasive government regulations, the
rules of engagement for this particular war hurts all of its targets — that is, they ratchet up fixed costs for all resellers, hurting them directly and also hurting their ability to provide a cheaper alternative to their main competitors (in this case, mainly big discount retailers like Wal-Mart). But within the resale market, it hurts some players more than others:
Staffers for the federal agency are fanning out across the country to conduct training seminars on the regulations at dozens of thrift shops.
Even before this law, we had good mechanisms in place for pulling recalled products,said Jim Gibbons, the chief executive of Goodwill.The law just kicks it up a notch, so Goodwills around the country will continue to improve our process.
Goodwill uses $2 billion in annual sales at its 2,300 thrift shops nationwide to pay for its job-training and employment placement programs.
Those of us who want to resell old toys but don’t have $2,000,000,000 in annual sales to dip into for regulatory compliance and who don’t get training seminars from the United States federal government may have a harder time kicking it up a notch. As usual, regulation props up big established incumbents and hurts grassroots, ad hoc, or just plain small-time players; state corporatism artificially enforces consumerism by burning out reuse markets, and props up the strip mall by burning out the bazaar.