For the ninth consecutive year, PPAI has brought the promotional products industry together with compliance, product safety and other experts for its annual Product Responsibility Summit. This year’s conference, running September 15-17 in Alexandria, Virginia, continues that tradition, drawing approximately 170 product responsibility pros for education focused on the most pressing business implications, challenges and opportunities associated with compliance, plus opportunities for them to connect and learn from each other.

“I think this year we’ve evolved from prior Summits,” says Leeton Lee, president of ComplyBox Consulting, chair of the PPAI Product Responsibility Action Group and co-chair of Summit. “We’ve gone further by even helping the experienced attendees go to that next level of education. We’re providing resources that complement what we’ve done before and help attendees take the next step. The subjects we’ve covered these past two days have also evolved in terms of sophistication, knowledge and best practices.”

Rick Brenner, MAS+, president and CEO of Logical Advisors and co-chair of the Summit, says, “That we still attract nearly 200 attendees for nine years in a row is an emphatic statement about the commitment of most professional promotional products distributors and suppliers to product safety, regulatory compliance and product responsibility.”

Summit brings a mix of first-time and repeat attendees at all levels of their product responsibility careers, and before things kicked off in earnest Monday morning, the schedule included numerous optional sessions designed to bring those new to compliance up to speed. These sessions, running all day Sunday and Monday morning, included an introduction to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Prop 65 and state regulations, avoiding undue influence, product safety basics and a panel discussion featuring established compliance pros sharing tips for keeping up with product responsibility obligations.

“I've really enjoyed my first PPAI Product Responsibility Summit,” says Lindsey Davis, MAS, director of promotional sales at Raining Rose. “PPAI does a great job of covering everything a first-timer—like me—needs to know while still keeping a focus on trends we all need to watch for in the future.”

Summit education officially opened Monday morning with a look at the new Prop 65 regulations that went into effect one year ago, and what can be learned from the past 12 months. Dan Herling, a defense attorney focused on product liability issues relating to consumer products, gave a detailed rundown on the notices, settlements and trends sparked by the regulations, and what companies can do to ensure internal procedures and practices are keeping up with recent litigation trends.

Brenner says, “In addition to reminding attendees of the changes, Dan was able to confirm for attendees that 70 percent of the Notice of Violations (NOV) are still related to lead and phthalates, but that additional concerns are surfacing. For our industry, we learned that there is an emerging issue—a significant number of NOVs related to leather products and plastic packaging.”

Every three hours, a child enters an emergency room with a battery-related issue in the U.S. Dr. Kris Jatana, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, gave the audience an explicit look at why pursuing product safety and compliance is so important, with a look at the spectrum of button battery injuries and mitigation strategies, as well the medical evaluation and management of other types of foreign bodies of the ear canal, nasal cavity and aerodigestive tract.

“This perhaps made the most stunning and dramatic impression of the day, educating attendees on the insidious and devasting effects of children swallowing button cell batteries and other choke hazards,” says Brenner. “I don’t think there’s a person in the room who isn’t going to go back home and redouble their efforts to make sure that all their products with button cell batteries are well-secured.”

After lunch, Summit welcomed Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), to speak on the perspective, realities and priorities of the agency she oversees (see separate story below). Acting Chairman Buerkle has joined Summit several times in recent years, reflecting the positive relationship the CPSC has with PPAI and the promotional products industry. This was her final address to PPAI in her current role as she is stepping down from the Commission at the end of October.

“Under her leadership, the Commission has had a very cooperative and supportive relationship with PPAI and it was an honor that she chose this event for her final public speech,” says Brenner. "Her positive comments were also a strong validation of the value of PPAI’s product safety initiatives.”

Next up was an end-buyer panel featuring Cathy Choffin, who is responsible for McDonald’s Corporation’s U.S. Consumer Product Safety program as a member of the Global Safety & Security Team, and Manuel G. Grace, associate general counsel to The Walt Disney Company and head of the environmental, health and safety practice group in the company’s legal department. Tabatha Bauer, director of logistics and compliance for Staples Promotional Products and Rick Brenner, moderated the panel discussion on what distributors’ clients need and expect when sourcing promotional products.

Lee says, “The end-buyer panel gave us an opportunity to understand what their expectations are so that distributors and suppliers aren’t guessing at what they’re clients require in regards to testing and social compliance.”

A second panel discussion Monday afternoon addressed some of the issues raised by the current trade war and tariffs on Chinese imports, namely the search for new production sources. Nathan Cotter, vice president of compliance at Hit Promotional Products, Inc., moderated a conversation with Oliver Knack, CEO of quality control solutions company Asia Quality Focus; Larry Whitney, director of global compliance at Polyconcept; and Cassi Wright, training and capacity building manager at the Fair Labor Association, who discussed several considerations when considering a sourcing shift, including the regulatory climate of the country, logistics, known human rights issues, availability of raw materials and other issues.

“Every supplier wants to move production out of China, to escape tariffs,” says Brenner. “But it’s extremely difficult because other countries don’t have the mature infrastructure of supporting systems that China has, as well as a limited number of factories with experience making products in multiple categories. There were no magic bullets here. It’s hard and the panel confirmed that in multiple ways.”

Lee adds, “Sourcing beyond China is the topic of the season because that whole area is so uncertain. The speakers on the panel were exceptional in helping us understand the challenges, what best practices are needed to meet them as well as what countries are the high risks and the pitfalls of doing business in those countries.”

Summit’s first day ended with a session on social responsibility, delivered by Frank Vasquez, director of corporate social responsibility for Hanesbrands, Inc. Vasquez spoke to his audience on what drives social responsibility initiatives and shared some of the key issues clients need answered.

On Monday evening attendees dined in small groups at several local restaurants, and Summit resumed this morning with a second day of extensive education. Up first, Justin Miller, Esq., a patent attorney with Larson & Larson, brought attendees up to speed on what it takes to protect intellectual property, and the tools to avoid infringement and misuse, such as copyrights, trademarks and patents (see separate story below).

This morning also tackled a frequent challenge for compliance officers—how not to be the “bad guy.” A panel discussion, which included Nat Bullock, MAS, product responsibility and global services manager at Geiger; Kyle Earing, director of quality and operations at Blink Marketing; Chris Pearson, director of compliance at Spector & Co.; JillAnn Rogoz, senior director of compliance Primeline; and moderated by Kim Bakalyar, CAS, chief compliance officer at PromoShop, took a look at the challenges of being a compliance officer. Panelists shared tips on how to build consensus, say “no” without damaging relationships, get buy-in from the top and build a culture of product responsibility.

“Summit is great,” says Spector & Co.’s Pearson. “Even though once we leave, we’re competitors, here, we talk and share with each other. This year, the panel discussion on sourcing outside of China was really interesting as it’s something I’m experiencing right now and it’s nice to know how others are doing it also.”

Before breaking for lunch, attendees participated in a series of roundtable discussions that allowed small groups to focus on a range of compliance challenges.

Later today, Summit’s schedule includes keynotes focusing on human trafficking and plastic recycling, a panel discussion on voluntary standards, and a look at designing for vulnerable users presented by CPSC Commissioner Robert Adler, incoming Acting Chairman of the agency.

While Summit’s education schedule wraps today, many attendees are joining tours on Wednesday to visit the CPSC testing laboratory in Rockland, Maryland, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum in Alexandria.