Ikea's Recall Efforts Fail to Protect Kids, Parents Say
Three years after the company recalled millions of dangerous dressers, many remain in homes and children are being harmed
“I’m here today to hold Ikea accountable,” said Crystal Ellis while standing in front of an Ikea store in New York City today.
Ellis—whose 2-year-old son Camden died in June 2014 after an Ikea Malm dresser tipped over on him—spoke today along with other consumer safety advocates to mark the third anniversary of the 2016 Ikea dresser recall in which 17.3 million dressers were pulled from the market.
At the time of the recall three years ago, Ikea dressers, including the Malm, had been tied to seven child deaths and 17 injuries. The numbers have now increased to 10 child fatalities and at least 144 tip-over injuries.
When Ikea initially announced the recall, the company said it was because the dressers didn’t meet the industry’s voluntary stability standard and were a “serious tip-over hazard.”
But the advocates—from Parents Against Tip Overs, the Consumer Federation of America, Kids in Danger, Public Citizen, and Consumer Reports—said that since then Ikea has not done enough to alert parents about the dangers of the products or made it easy enough for consumers to return dressers or obtain anchor kits to secure them to walls.
Though a recall “sounds like a victory,” the real work involves increasing consumer awareness and getting recalled products out of homes, Ellis said. At least one child, Jozef Dudek of California, was killed by one of the recalled dressers over a year after the recall, according to a lawsuit filed by the law firm Feldman Shepherd against Ikea. His parents say they had never heard about the recall, Ellis said.
An Ikea spokesperson told CR, “We continue to communicate the recall prominently on our website and through in-store signage. Consumers can return the products for a refund or exchange, we will pick up recalled dressers for a refund or exchange, or consumers can request a tip-over restraint kit to replace the one that was sold with the dresser originally.”
The Ikea spokesperson also said that of the 17.3 million affected dressers, the company has issued 400,000 refunds for returned dressers since the recall announcement in June 2016. The company also sent out 1.02 million wall anchors since the "repair program" Ikea initiated in July 2015 before the company eventually issued the dresser recall.
Though Ikea offered the anchors as part of its recall solution, CR does not believe that distributing anchors meant to attach an unstable dresser to a wall is an effective remedy because there is no way to ensure that consumers will take the extra step to install the anchors.
Based on CR's concerns about anchors as a remedy, and accounting for the number of dressers actually returned to Ikea, the recall rate would be about 2 percent. That is below the industry average, according to data from the CPSC. Further, the industry average is only about 8 percent, illustrating the already widespread difficulty of getting recalled products out of people’s homes once they have been sold.
The Ikea spokesperson added that some of the recalled dressers may no longer be in use, and some consumers may have attached the dressers to the wall on their own. Those people “would not need to participate in the recall,” the spokesperson said, “though we would certainly honor their request if they still chose to return the product.”
Consumer product experts note that dressers often remain in homes for years or are sold second-hand or passed on to others. And research shows that wall anchors are an imperfect solution: 73 percent of Americans have never anchored furniture in their homes, according to a nationally representative 2018 CR survey of 1,502 U.S. adults.
We must do better, said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger. “We call on both the company and CPSC to up their game. Ikea should use the same multifaceted efforts they use to sell products to retrieve their unstable dressers from homes.”
Statistics suggest that furniture tip-overs remain a serious hazard in American homes. Approximately one child dies every two weeks and one person is injured every 15 minutes when a piece of furniture or a television falls over onto them, according to the CPSC.
To address the problem, advocates are urging Congress to pass the Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth (STURDY) act. The legislation would require the CPSC to create a mandatory rule for dressers that is stronger than the industry’s current voluntary standard. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) in the House in April and Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) earlier this month.
“Our testing has shown that right now, consumers have no easy way to simply look at a dresser and tell whether it is likely to tip over. Heavy and light dressers can tip over, as can dressers at all price points,” said Meagen Bohne, associate director of campaigns at CR. “Buying a dresser shouldn’t be a possible life and death decision. All dressers should meet a strong mandatory standard that requires them to stay upright when put through basic testing.”
Keisha Bowles, whose 2-year-old daughter Sydney Chance died in 2012 when a dresser and TV tipped over on top of her, said today that “industry should not be in charge of deciding what’s safe” and that “manufacturers know how to design the hazard out of the products right now. This law forces them to put safety over profits to keep children safe.”
Editor's Note: This article, originally published on June 27, 2019, was updated to reflect that Ikea has distributed 1.02 million wall anchors since it launched its repair program in 2015, not since the recall announcement in June 2016, as Ikea originally told Consumer Reports. The recall effectiveness rate has also been modified.