Businesses selling children's products in New Zealand have been prosecuted and fined to the tune of $1 million in the past 30 months.

Commerce Commission investigations led to 16 successful prosecutions covering mostly toy products for children aged up to 3.

Not all prosecutions were toy-related; two fell under clothing and two for cots.

They came mostly after unannounced visits by investigators.

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General manager for competition and consumer Antonia Horrocks said programmed inspections took place on an annual basis.

"Many of the cases that we've taken do come from those inspections," she said.

"For resource reasons, nothing is random - we tend to identify on an annual basis where we might check retailers and then follow up as appropriate."

General manager of competition and consumer branch Antonia Horrocks. Photo / Supplied
General manager of competition and consumer branch Antonia Horrocks. Photo / Supplied

Follow-ups could simply be compliance advice or warning letters, but the most egregious cases led to prosecution, Horrocks said.

All children's toys have a product safety standard they must meet to ensure they are safe enough for children aged up to 3.

The tests are designed to simulate a child playing with a toy, to assess the products' compliance with the standard. Potential choking hazards and breakable objects or parts are of the most concern.

"We have a small tube that enables us to test if something will fall through the throat of an under-3 years, that helps identify choking hazards," Horrocks said.

"There's also the breakability; a toy might be bigger than [choking size] but come apart very easily."

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In July 2017, 123 Mart was found guilty in the Auckland District Court on 17 charges under the Fair Trading Act for supplying unsafe toys. It was given the largest penalty of all 16 Commission prosecutions, a fine of $337,000.

Last month, toy importer and wholesaler First Mart was fined $45,000 for supplying unsafe Peppa Pig toys.

It pleaded guilty to one charge under the Fair Trading Act after testing found small parts in the toys became separated, representing a choking hazard for young children.

Consumer NZ adviser Maggie Edwards said it was pleasing to see the commission take prosecution around children's safety seriously.

The small parts cylinder; if a toy or toy part fits in here it's a choking hazard. Photo / Supplied
The small parts cylinder; if a toy or toy part fits in here it's a choking hazard. Photo / Supplied

"It was pretty lightly regulated and there weren't many prosecutions … they're being a lot more active in that whole consumer space, which is great," she said.

"There are high rates of preventable injuries in New Zealand and the whole thing about safety is to reduce the severity of those."

Parents who found a fault within a product were advised to report it to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Trading Standards, Edwards said.

If something is really unsafe or falls apart, she said parents had rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

"The idea behind the act is that retailers are meant to make sure that the products they sell are of acceptable quality for [the purpose for which] they're sold.

"Even though you think the retailer-supplier would do their due diligence and not sell anything [harmful] for young kids, something might slip through."

Members of the Commerce Commission attend the Baby Show in March. Photo / Supplied
Members of the Commerce Commission attend the Baby Show in March. Photo / Supplied

Along with the prosecutions, the commission translated a body of work into several languages advising traders of their compliance responsibilities.

Horrocks said a lot of time was spent on the ground spreading the message around compliance to traders.

"What those [prosecution] cases do is send a clear message to other companies there can be significant penalties imposed if you do breach," she said.

"That deterrent message really helps with the overall picture of helping traders know they have obligations there but there's a consequence if they don't meet them."

"That keeps children safe first of all and we do prosecute businesses that do break the law. Prevention is obviously a better outcome if we can encourage and support that."