CONSHOHOCKEN – Before IKEA could announce a massive recall on one of its furniture products, the information was leaked prematurely by a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) employee.
The IKEA recall announcement scheduled to be released on June 29 was leaked to a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer, appearing the afternoon before the announcement was scheduled to hit news outlets. In the reporter’s story, she confirmed that her source did indeed work for the CPSC, which IKEA was jointly making the announcement with, along with Health Canada.
The article in the Philadelphia Inquirer included quotes from sources such as consumer advocates, indicating the reporter knew about the recall for some time to coordinate the story. Once the Philadelphia Inquirer published the article on the recall, several other news stories picked up the story.
The recall affected 29 million units, leaving IKEA in a position to make some quick judgments on how to handle the situation.
Regarding the CPSC employee who leaked the information, Matthew R. Howsare, an attorney at Mintz Levin, told the Pennsylvania Record, “A career CPSC employee who leaked the information about the recall to the press likely would be subject to some sort of disciplinary action.
"If the employee is a political appointee, then different rules apply, and it’s more questionable as to whether they would end up being subject to disciplinary action. If the employee is an attorney, then there is also a question of whether divulging nonpublic information in violation of CPSC’s own statutes and regulations would also violate the rules of professional conduct in the state where that attorney is admitted to the bar.”
As to what would motivate an employee of CPSC to leak the information Howsare said, “Given that the early reporting of the recall potentially had a detrimental effect on the implementation of the recall itself, the person who leaked the information to the press likely had an unknown personal motivation that was not grounded in the best interests of the most effective implementation of the recall.”
It is suspected that IKEA most likely had a contingency plan in place in case the information was leaked, as it went through a similar situation in 2009. Early release of a recall can cause hotline problems as companies are not equipped to handle the onslaught of calls before the announcement date.
“It happened in 2009 during the Storkcraft crib recall,” said Howsare. “It was reported that the company was blindsided by the early announcement and they received a large surge of inquiries from consumers prior to the planned announcement.
"The unanticipated surge made it more difficult for people to reach the company when the recall was officially announced. Interestingly the same news organization that broke the IKEA recall prior to the planned announcement and likely caused a very similar situation subsequently wrote a follow-up story about the difficulty of reaching a representative on the recall hotline.”