Broken (2019) s01e03 Episode Script

Deadly Dressers

[suspenseful music plays.]
This is my son Charlie.
He died 11 years ago last week.
Our daughter Harper, she passed away two years ago this month.
The last thing she said was, "I love you, Mom.
" And literally, 60 seconds later, I walk into the room and she was under the dresser.
That's an image you will never forget.
Ever in your life.
In the United States alone, someone is sent to the emergency room by a furniture related tip-over every 30 minutes.
How many accidents have to happen, how many deaths have to happen before this problem is fixed? [narrator.]
And the government agency meant to protect consumers isn't able to do its job.
I remember the day I walked into my office and my staff was sitting there, looking crestfallen and said, "There's another death.
" [narrator.]
Some say it's our own addiction to cheap, disposable furniture that's to blame.
This is furniture that might look good for a year or two and then it just falls apart.
There is a price tag attached to the low price.
[chainsaw running.]
The consequences go far beyond our own homes.
You need a lot of wood to make those furnitures.
I think we are on a battlefield where good and evil meets.
[in Romanian.]
This is illegal wood from the National Forest! This company steals our future.
[man speaks indistinctly.]
At the center of it all, some of the biggest furniture sellers in the world.
IKEA is such an immense company that what they're doing is devastating.
And they're not owning up to that responsibility.
It doesn't matter what kind of furniture is in your home, this could happen to you.
[theme song playing.]
[baby moaning.]
Yeah! We're almost there.
Your carrots are just about ready.
[baby cries.]
These are your favorites, aren't they? [narrator.]
Janet and Jeremy McGee live with their four children in Eagan, Minnesota.
Can you say, "Mmm?" Mmm - [laughs.]
- [Jeremy.]
Mmm [chuckles.]
These are our family pictures.
Our oldest is Matthew, and he's a senior this year in high school.
Blake is in eighth grade this year, and then Jacob is also in eighth grade.
And then Mason, this is his nine-month pictures.
Um [clicks tongue.]
and then this is Teddy.
And we just only have so many pictures of him, so we just kind of keep rotating them whenever Whenever the kids get new school pictures, we just [sighs.]
put a different picture of Teddy out.
So, it kind of keeps it fresh.
- [Janet.]
You see the puppy? - [Ted.]
Ted was a breath of fresh air to our family.
[baby laughs.]
Jeremy had two boys from a previous marriage, and I had a son from a previous marriage.
And so Ted was our first together.
[melancholic music plays.]
He was what made us complete.
It was a Sunday, and it was Valentine's Day.
And so we had gotten these little pieces of chocolate from church on the way out.
And I'd given mine to Ted, so he ate it on the way home.
And he just had chocolate smeared all over his face when we pulled into the garage.
After lunch, it was time for his nap.
And the last time I went to check on him, I opened the door and immediately just noticed how eerily quiet it was.
And I saw that his bed was empty.
And so I thought, "Okay, maybe he got out," and was playing or hiding behind the door.
I opened it even further, and right in front of me, I saw that his dresser had tipped forward.
I lifted up the dresser and started digging through a pile of drawers only to find him at the bottom, non-responsive.
Eventually we were told there was just nothing more that could be done.
So I remember just holding his cold hand.
We had to go back into the waiting room and tell our other kids that their brother had just died.
[dramatic music plays.]
The dresser that killed Ted McGee was a six-drawer MALM dresser from IKEA.
It turned out that across the US, there had been a rash of similar accidents, some involving IKEA products and some not, many ending in tragedy.
My son died in 2016.
And in 2016 and 2017, 31 children died from furniture tip-overs.
Over the last decade, furniture tip-overs have become front page news.
So, what is it about the furniture in our homes that's changed? To answer that question, you have to go back in time to see how furniture used to be made.
[phone dialing.]
[ringback tone.]
[woman over the phone.]
Good morning, John.
Good morning.
Can you get me Joyce, please? [woman over the phone.]
One moment, please.
My name is John D.
Bassett III, and I am the chairman of the board of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company.
[indistinct chatter over the phone.]
All right.
Let me know if anything goes on, okay? - Yes, sir.
- Thank you.
Appreciate it.
Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company is a bedroom manufacturer, one of the last ones left in the United States.
Furniture used to be built to last a lifetime.
Elegant, sturdy sets passed down from generation to generation.
This is part of American society.
The tradition goes back for years and years and years.
Good morning.
Thank you! My name's Doug Bassett.
I'm president of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company.
My brother Wyatt's the CEO, and my father John is chairman.
[air screwdrivers running.]
The factory's been around for 99 years.
So, we've got people working here that are second generation, third generation.
My brother and I are fourth generation.
We're making a five-drawer chest that goes with a bedroom set.
The tops, the drawer fronts, the sides are made out of solid wood.
Overwhelmingly, we use solid maple, solid cherry, or solid oak.
This chest, at retail, probably sells for $599.
An IKEA chest that you slap together yourself might sell for $199.
IKEA makes a inexpensive product.
It doesn't have the stability of what we make.
For many years, most furniture in the US came from companies like this one.
My grandfather, who started the Bassett Industries in 1902, was born a year after the Civil War ended.
My father became CEO of Bassett.
Later, after he died, my brother-in-law became CEO of Bassett.
Years later, John Bassett would branch off to run Vaughan-Bassett here in Galax, Virginia.
It's a town of about 7,000 people, many of whom depend on the company for their livelihoods.
[band plays country music.]
We're in the southern part of Virginia where the Blue Ridge Mountains start and you have some of the finest hardwood timber in the United States.
Furniture companies were pretty much the lifeblood in the Appalachian region.
These companies employed thousands of people.
The raw materials were there, and they also had cheaper labor.
For most of the 20th century, the furniture industry boomed in this area.
But as the century drew to a close, things began to change.
[suspenseful music plays.]
Between 1998 and 2003, we watched dozens of furniture factories close.
It wiped the industry out.
It was devastating.
How did this happen? What caused the virtual collapse of one of the most thriving manufacturing sectors in the United States? [Doug.]
Every six months when we would go to furniture market, there'd be more Chinese factories offering ever cheaper bedroom furniture in our market.
Beginning in the 1980s and '90s, furniture makers had quietly begun shifting much of their production to Asia.
Furniture is like a lot of other industries in that it chases low labor rates.
As the manufacturing has moved to Asia, what used to be a beautiful, solid wood, 18th century poster-bed started becoming something cheaper, both in price and to look at.
By 2004, 54% of the market was being made abroad.
The impact on US manufacturers was devastating.
We had huge job losses.
People been working in this industry for 100 years, what else were they gonna do? [narrator.]
It turned out that the Chinese manufacturers were selling their products at less than the cost it took to make them, which was a violation of international trade law called "dumping.
" One Chinese guy told me, I asked him, "How can you sell it at this price?" He said, "This is the tuition we pay to drive you out of business.
" We felt intuitively that they were cheating or breaking the international trade laws in some way.
But the Bassetts held fast, fighting back against their foreign competitors and sticking to doing what they always did: making sturdy, quality furniture out of local wood and keeping jobs in their town.
When almost every other American manufacturer chose to shut their doors and become an importer or were just forced out of business and went away, we made the decision we were gonna stay in the United States and be an American manufacturer.
I grew up as John Bassett in a little town called Bassett, Virginia.
And we employed a lot of people.
And my parents taught me, "John, you're responsible for these people.
" Maybe I'm the old school.
I still feel the same way.
Vaughan-Bassett was among the very few American companies to survive the first onslaught of cheap foreign-made furniture.
But consumers had already become addicted to the stuff.
And, in fact, a whole new segment of the market had been born.
[action music plays quietly.]
Fast furniture.
The company that would take fast furniture to new heights, forever revolutionizing the way furniture is made and sold, wasn't American or Chinese.
It was the innovative Swedish retailer IKEA.
Before people bought furniture, a bed or a sofa, and they were going to have that furniture for their whole life.
IKEA came with a new view.
Cheap furniture you can buy and then you can change.
Get something new, something modern.
Specializing in low-cost home furnishings that require assembly by consumers, IKEA began a global expansion in the 1980s and '90s after decades of selling products primarily in Scandinavia.
Today, the company has more than 420 stores in over 50 countries and pulls in about 43 billion dollars a year in sales.
If there's one really good thing that IKEA has achieved, it's that we made really beautiful, good home furnishings affordable to many people.
Before that, that was not the case.
IKEA is nowadays this huge global brand with stores all over the world.
[dramatic music playing.]
But it was established by one man, Ingvar Kamprad.
In 1943, at the age of 17, Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in the tiny Swedish town of Älmhult.
The name IKEA was made up of his initials.
I for Ingvar, K for Kamprad, E for Elmtaryd, A for Agunnaryd.
Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd, that is the village and the farm where Ingvar grew up.
[music stops.]
Ingvar wanted to actually create a better everyday life for the many people, and that is still our mission within IKEA.
[soft music playing.]
The whole business model is based on high volumes and low costs.
High volumes both in terms of purchasing, but also high sales volumes.
That's why the company has been expanding so fiercely over the years.
Kamprad believed that the key to IKEA's success was frugality and thrift.
To me, Ingvar was a genius, a business genius.
Johan Stenebo worked for IKEA for decades, both as a personal assistant to Ingvar Kamprad and as a high-ranking executive.
In Sweden, Ingvar is a hero, and I think rightly so.
Within IKEA, he almost had a divine status for us working for him.
Ingvar was a true entrepreneur.
He was curious, always.
He wanted to learn more, and he was brave.
He wasn't afraid of challenging and trying new things.
Some of IKEA's most brilliant innovations had to do with design and layout.
The massive stores, visible from blocks away, decorated in the bold colors of the Swedish flag.
And, of course, those endless, meandering walkways.
The walkways you follow through the stores, they're only straight for about 20 yards, and then you get a nook and a cranny, and then they turn back.
They sort of lead you, unconsciously, through the whole store and all the merchandise.
IKEA is really good to make us buy more.
They make us pick a bag, a blue and yellow bag, as quick as possible.
Once you've started to put your first piece of merchandise in them, you've mentally opened your wallet.
If your goal is to buy maybe a stool or a low energy bulb, you leave the store with maybe merchandise for two or three hundred dollars.
For many customers, the attraction to IKEA is more than just to the products.
It's to the entire experience.
Consumers also love the imagined connection to exotic Scandinavian lands far away.
One of the most central factors to IKEA's success is the narratives.
And by narratives, I mean that they also fabricate stories about Sweden, "Swedishness.
" [Magnus.]
Everything IKEA's selling has Swedish names and it's from small village.
It's a smart thing because it looks more Swedish with exclusive local names.
But there's a lot about IKEA that people don't know, starting with the truth about Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA's secretive founder.
It was very important for Ingvar Kamprad to show that he was a simple man.
He wasn't interested in money.
He was a man from the people, living like everyone else.
He made a thing about being like the common man.
But he wasn't.
After working at IKEA for more than 20 years, Johan Stenebo became disillusioned and left the company.
I felt a growing frustration with the hypocrisy of it all, that we were doing one thing and saying another.
Everything was so secretive.
I couldn't live with that.
[dramatic music plays.]
In the 1990s, it came out that around the time Ingvar Kamprad started IKEA, during World War II, he had been an active member of the Swedish Nazi Party.
He was brought up to be pro-German and also brought up to be a Nazi.
The revelation made headlines, and Kamprad issued an apology.
It became an enormous scandal in Swedish and international media.
He made a big thing about forgiveness and that he's changed his mind and so forth.
And I do believe him.
And then there were IKEA's opaque finances.
For years, Kamprad had told the public that he and his family had donated ownership of IKEA to a charitable foundation.
Ingvar Kamprad has always said that he's not interested in owning the company, has given IKEA away to a charity foundation in Holland.
But it was not true.
Magnus Svenungsson has spent years investigating IKEA's finances.
We found that he has never given IKEA away.
He has never let anyone else control the company.
He was so focused on money.
Kamprad devised a complex ownership structure for IKEA, dividing the corporation into many smaller companies, moving its headquarters to the Netherlands, and creating a non-profit foundation to shelter the company's enormous earnings.
According to Svenungsson's investigation, it was all a ploy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes in Sweden.
IKEA is not a transparent company.
That's the way Ingvar Kamprad wanted.
When Kamprad died in January of 2018, he was considered one of the ten richest people in the world.
I'm the vice president of IKEA Sweden, and here in Sweden, of course, we pay taxes according to all tax regulations, and that is also the policy of all IKEA companies under the IKEA brand because IKEA is a brand with a lot of different companies under it.
Today the European Commission has open an in-depth investigation into the Netherlands' tax treatment of Inter IKEA.
In recent years, the company has been ensnared in a series of investigations into its questionable tax arrangements.
But despite IKEA's legal troubles, the company's growth continued unabated.
In order to help the many people build a better future and everyday life, they need to grow.
And in order to grow, they need to turn a profit.
And so it goes on.
And in order to make the millions of affordable pieces of furniture it sells every year, IKEA is constantly on the hunt for ever-cheaper sources of its most important raw material.
IKEA, annually, takes one percent of all the wood supply in the world.
We're talking 13 million cubic meters of solid wood.
Wood is really important for IKEA.
It's really in our heritage, as you can say.
IKEA's wood comes from dozens of different places around the world, including China, Ukraine, Siberia, and Romania.
And according to some, IKEA's track record of obscuring the truth also extends to how and where it gets its wood.
Romania is a key country for furniture production for IKEA.
Sometimes you just look on the little white label under a table or a chair or whatever um and you will find "Made in Romania.
" It may come from here.
Gabi Paun is a Romanian biologist and environmental activist.
Look at this light.
Look at this great mixed forest, old-growth.
His non-profit organization, Agent Green, has been fighting to save Romania's virgin forests for almost a decade.
Everything I do is just working with nature to defend nature and protect life.
Romania's Carpathian Mountains are home to some of Europe's last old-growth timberlands.
Today, these legendary forests are under threat.
Until recently, Romania's largest national park was part of Europe's last intact forest landscape.
But in the last 20 years, everything spiraled out of control.
[crowd clamoring.]
Beginning in the 1990s, after the fall of Romania's communist regime, the government opened their lands to international logging companies.
The country was ripe for exploitation.
It had rich natural resources, an unstable government, rampant political corruption, and ties to organized crime.
The government allowed foreign corporations to come into the country and develop processing facilities, which can eat more wood than the country can offer legally.
And sadly, in Romania, we have a lot of problems with illegal logging.
[truck engine rumble.]
You hear that logging truck? [rumble continues.]
Oh, my God! I can't believe this.
It's the same truck I busted stealing wood from here.
Two months before this interview, Gabi filed a complaint against the Ralvalserv Logging Company for what he believed was illegal wood cutting in the Domogled National Park.
Today, the same loggers are back at it.
Oh! There's another truck coming.
It's outrageous! I'm more than angry.
A big part of Agent Green's work is to document the illegal activity, using video and photography.
I'm using a small drone to look from distance where they're actually cutting.
So I'm looking at the openings, any openings in the forests.
They are just down here cutting trees in this opening here.
[action music plays.]
Gabi and his team follow the sound of the chainsaws and decide to confront the loggers.
[chainsaw running.]
[Gabi, in Romanian.]
Hello! Here we meet again.
[logger speaks indistinctly.]
Where are you cutting the trees from? From the left or the right side? Won't you speak to us? [logger, in Romanian.]
We are angry.
Tell us, which forestry area are you pulling the logs from? [chainsaw running.]
They are pissed off because we busted them and they got Their company's almost shut down.
On the stump, there should be a round hammer applied with letters and numbers.
I see the bark chopped, but there is no stamp on it.
[Gabi, in Romanian.]
Where is the mark, sir? [in Romanian.]
Take a look there! I can see it.
I should die if I see it.
Come on here.
At your right hand.
Come here, let me see it.
Where is it? [logger.]
What is this? I don't know what this is, but it should be here.
It's not my fault! Look here! What is here? Come see this one.
We haven't finished with this one! You haven't even showed me a letter.
He can't show me any proof that it was legal.
And they only cut trees like this, which are, from the economical point of view, the most valuable ones.
This is perfectly healthy.
This is a beautiful piece.
You can make superior products out of it.
[chainsaw running.]
We have to be very careful here with these guys.
They have chainsaws.
They are big guys.
They are angry.
They are doing something wrong, so let's be careful.
[creaking tree.]
[chainsaw engine running.]
[in Romanian.]
Criminal! [dramatic music playing.]
While the battle against illegal logging goes on, the impact of two decades of abuse by lumber companies is evident all across the Romanian landscape.
There's not a place in Romania where they do forest exploitation, and they do it properly.
Horea Petrehus, Adrian Gliga, and Bogdan Graur are forestry activists based in Cluj, Romania's second largest city.
[Horea, in Romanian.]
This clear-cut area is huge.
[Bogdan, in Romanian.]
It is pretty big and stretches down on the other side.
They didn't clean up after logging at all.
Everything is filthy.
This part of the Carpathians was cut down by an Austrian logging company called Holzindustrie Schweighofer, the largest lumber company in Romania.
[in English.]
Over 3,000 trucks of wood go out from here without having a legal permit.
If they had a legal permit now, here, the new grown trees had to be, like, this high.
They are destroying the last wilderness in Europe.
Clear-cuts like these lead to permanent deforestation.
That can destroy an area's biodiversity.
And it's not just happening in Romania.
All across the planet, forests are disappearing at alarming rates.
Each year, an estimated 18.
7 million acres are lost, which is equal to 27 soccer fields every minute.
[Horea, in Romanian.]
Less than 10 years ago, this was a hot spot for deer and bear.
It was a very special area.
Very special area.
It was a resource for hundreds of local people.
[sheep bleating.]
[in Romanina.]
All this deforestation, all these forests were cut down, did it affect the local communities? [shepherd, in Romanian.]
There was nothing left.
- You were left with the loss.
- We woke up one day, nothing was left.
- That you don't have anything left.
- That's it.
Did the local communities get rich with all this deforestation or only very few people? [shepherd.]
How would the local people get rich? It wasn't the local people taking wood.
Big companies took the wood.
[in Romanian.]
People don't have any resources any longer.
- They can't live off the land any longer.
- [shepherd.]
There are no people left.
The forest is gone.
- Goodbye.
- Goodbye.
Stay in good health.
Hope we see each other in the future.
Just about 100 kilometers from the Bear Valley is the Romanian headquarters of Holzindustrie Schweighofer.
[suspenseful music plays.]
This state-of-the-art sawmill, opened in 2003, processes nearly 1.
5 million cubic meters of lumber every year.
Our work was focused for many years on Holzindustrie Schweighofer simply because they're the biggest processing company in this country.
I had big doubts about their intention.
You just don't come to a country and open a factory when you know that the corruption is at such a high level.
For years, Schweighofer had maintained that they didn't accept illegal wood from national parks.
Gabi decided to investigate.
I was following a logging area in Retezat National Park, which is the oldest national park in Romania, established in 1935.
They went there and they cut, but not the sick trees, the healthy, beautiful trees, the straight ones.
[man screams indistinctly.]
I decided to film one truck all the way from the forest to the sawmill.
And they went straight to Sebes factory of Holzindustrie Schweighofer.
[Gabi, in Romanian.]
Mister! This is illegal wood from the national forest.
[guard, in Romanian.]
You had time to film in the parking lot.
Please go away.
Yes, but the truck entered the sawmill gates.
It is illegal.
It is as it is.
This company steals our future.
It is eating our forests.
Take your hands away! I want to film the truck as it enters the gate.
That is the crime.
[guards speak indistinctly.]
I was attacked by the guards of the factory.
I need water.
They punched me, and then they kicked me, and they pepper spray into my mouth, and nose and ears and eyes.
That story went public.
And it damaged their reputation in such a way that even their biggest clients in Japan heard about it.
They are listening very carefully now.
Schweighofer says they've put stronger rules in place to make sure they don't use illegal wood.
These are the transport documents which are mandatory for transporting logs in Romania.
In this moment, we are sure that everything what is on this paper is approved and it's legal.
But there was another company swept up in Gabi's investigation IKEA.
They had been doing business with Schweighofer for years.
Many of their boards goes to some smaller or bigger factories producing furniture for IKEA.
It wasn't the first time they'd been called out for pillaging virgin forests.
IKEA's been caught red-handed in virgin forests in Russia, in Romania, and so forth, time and again.
In each case, IKEA reacted only after the allegations caused public embarrassment.
When it came to our attention that we had a sub-supplier in Romania that did not meet needed IKEA standard, as always, we take a swift action.
We always investigate.
We try to work with the suppliers and correct the issues.
But sometimes we have to terminate the relationship, and that is what we did this sub-supplier.
Sustainability is, of course, very important for IKEA.
Sustainability is not new to IKEA.
We've done a lot.
And we'll be doing a lot more.
According to IKEA, they're one of the most sustainable furniture makers in the world.
Well, you have to do more from less.
You need to be careful about the scarce resources.
So that has been in the DNA of IKEA from the start.
Their image is that they are environmentally friendly.
But when you have low prices, it stimulates the fact that you buy something and you throw that sofa out after three years and buy a new one.
And that's not so good for the environment.
The company has pledged to become "forest positive" by 2020, meaning they have set a goal of sourcing 100% of their wood from quote, "more sustainable sources.
" [male voiceover.]
Becoming forest positive means ensuring the future of trees.
It's part of an overall strategy to use less of the planet's wood.
One way they do that is by using chipped rather than solid wood, which also lets them make lighter furniture with lower shipping costs.
IKEA calls this their "lightweight agenda.
" Of course, it's not just IKEA.
Plenty of other companies use lightweight particle board or other composite products to keep costs down and stay competitive.
That saying, "They don't make 'em like they used to.
" you know, we heard that for a lot of things.
And I think dressers is one of those industries that that rings true in.
In this race to meet consumer demand for ever-cheaper, more modern, one-click-purchase products, are furniture companies making a tragic compromise? When Janet and Jeremy McGee's son Ted was killed by an IKEA dresser in February of 2016, they thought they were isolated victims of a freak accident.
It wasn't until a few days later where some family friends would say, "Oh, is that anything to do with this IKEA story I saw?" [narrator.]
Their friends told them about a recent morning news segment.
It's the hidden danger in countless American homes.
Furniture tipping and falling on children.
In two wrongful death lawsuits, one filed days ago and another in May of last year, the families of Camden Ellis and Curren Collas, both two, say the boys were crushed by falling IKEA dressers.
I Googled "IKEA dresser deaths.
" And the first thing that came up was a picture of Ted's dresser.
And the stories of Curren Collas and Camden Ellis, who had died just two years earlier from the MALM dresser.
That brought us from thinking this was a complete freak accident to thinking, "Oh, my gosh, he's not alone.
" [melancholic music playing.]
And then from Googling and researching further, we learned that there were actually four other children before these two that had died.
And that was just from IKEA dressers.
A number of other smaller brands, including some sold by Target, Walmart and Wayfair.
com, were also causing harm.
Every 17 minutes, someone in the United States is injured by a piece of furniture falling over on them.
Every 30 minutes, a young child is injured by a piece of furniture falling over on them.
Of course, it's not only a problem in the US.
Tip-over casualties have also been reported all over the world.
And one particular threat is the seemingly innocuous bedroom dresser.
The drawers can move in and out.
With the drawer moving out, you have something called a lever arm that can be yanked on and can move.
The moving around of the center of mass or center of gravity as well as the presence of these long lever arms creates a situation called torque.
It's that torque, placing force on an open drawer, that can make a dresser easy to tip over.
That and kids themselves.
You know, kids are unpredictable, and so they canput themselves in precarious situations.
Sometimes kids climb on furniture, which, you know, to us, it's a dresser, but to them, it might be a pirate ship ladder or whatever they're pretending it to be.
We think of the top drawer as bad because it's the highest one, but often it's the lower one or two that that open and then the dresser can tip over.
As they learned about the other deaths, the McGees realized they couldn't simply accept the tragedy as a blameless accident.
We went from feeling incredibly sad about his death to feeling a responsibility because of his death.
The McGees filed a wrongful death suit alongside the families of Camden Ellis and Curren Collas, both victim's of IKEA's MALM Dresser.
Our mission has never been to bash the company, but it's really just been to hold them accountable for something that they should've been accountable for a long time ago.
A lawsuit was one way to do that.
But the McGees also wondered why this was allowed to happen in the first place.
Who holds big companies accountable for the things they sell? My name is Ann-Marie Buerkle, and I'm the Acting Chairman of the Consumer Producer Safety Commission.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a federal agency that almost no one has heard of, but every single one of us relies on every single day of our lives.
Its mission is to protect American consumers from unreasonably dangerous products.
Welcome to this public meeting of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.
We have the power to write safety standards.
We also have the authority to require companies that have produced products that might be hazardous to report to us the fact that they have a product that is potentially hazardous.
And we also recall dangerous products.
So we were the agency, for example, that recalled the Samsung Galaxy phones that were exploding.
We recalled hoverboards that were exploding.
There's no way we could have these protections without an agency doing its job.
I mean, who's going to recall a product and make sure that the consumers get the kind of remedy that they need? You are in the bike helmet impact lab, and here we test helmets.
It would seem pretty straightforward.
A government agency tasked with setting standards and regulating industries with the goal of protecting consumers.
- [machinery buzz.]
- What we do here is we simulate the lifetime of use for cribs, for example, by running them through our crib shaker test.
But unfortunately, with many products, including furniture, it's not quite that simple.
There are standards that exist governing the sale and manufacture of furniture.
The problem is that they're voluntary standards.
They're not mandatory.
Voluntary means that companies are not compelled to follow them.
They are simply recommended guidelines.
The industry themselves can right now choose, "Do we follow it or do we not?" What makes you comply to it? And right now, there's really nothing that forces you to comply.
We don't have direct enforcement power over voluntary standards unless we take certain additional legal steps.
It's unconscionable to have a voluntary standard.
Because it essentially says there are bad actors, perhaps, that can do whatever they want.
They can make products that may not have intrinsic stability.
And when it came to dressers, one of the companies that chose not to comply with that voluntary standard was IKEA.
They weren't even close to complying.
And the standard, it's really easy.
The test is, can you pull out all the drawers and not have it fall over, or can you pull out one drawer at a time and put a 50-pound weight on it and not have it fall over? It's a pretty basic stability test.
Unbeknownst to us, we purchased a dresser that didn't meet safety standards.
The McGees were shocked to learn how little authority the CPSC actually has over industry.
There are restrictions that have been put on the CPSC, some of which make absolutely no sense.
And when you say to anyone who isn't familiar with the agency what those restrictions are, they're appalled.
One of the key restrictions is this: the CPSC is prohibited by law from saying anything about a company without first allowing the company to weigh in.
If the CPSC is going to mention a company, we have to submit what we're gonna say to them.
We can't say to the public the things that they need to know in order to stay safe.
We're constantly having to negotiate with companies about what we can say about their products.
[dramatic music plays.]
And that's what happened in 2015 after the deaths of the two toddlers came to light.
Behind closed doors, the CPSC negotiated with IKEA on how to handle their dresser problem.
One of the big issues was, "Do we use the word ‘repair program' or ‘recall program'?" The company strongly didn't wanna use the word "recall".
IKEA issued not a full-blown recall but a repair kit program.
If a consumer requested it, they would send out an anchor kit for free.
IKEA had convinced the CPSC that all they needed to do was inform customers they could get a free anchoring kit.
You've gotta find a stud.
You've gotta have a drill.
You've gotta do it properly.
You just can't put it into dry wall and into the back of the furniture.
There's so many people who can't do that.
Consumer Reports has determined that only about one quarter of Americans anchor furniture in their homes.
That means nearly 75% do not.
A lot of people didn't know that they even could get this kit.
Certainly, consumers were not told, "This is a danger.
It can kill your child.
" I remember saying to my staff, "We're gonna have another kid die.
" And, unfortunately for us, that's exactly what happened, was on Valentine's Day our son died in 2016 from the IKEA dresser that fell on him.
Finally, in June of 2016, amid a flurry of negative press, IKEA agreed to a true recall.
This recall of 29 million IKEA chests and drawers is one of the most comprehensive consumer safety recalls in American history.
IKEA now offering to buy back any unit made after 2002 at a cost of what could be more than two billion dollars.
IKEA offered to replace the dresser, go in the home, anchor the dresser to the wall, take the dresser out.
They really offered any remedy the consumer wanted.
The question was: would the recall work? I'd like you to contact IKEA or visit IKEA.
com to learn more about how you can participate in the recall.
IKEA do whatever we can to reach out to as many people as possible.
It is on YouTube.
It is on social media.
It is in traditional media.
Not everyone watches TV.
Not everyone's on the internet.
That's the big problem with recalls, is communicating a recall to get everyone aware of it.
How do you reach 29 million people for this recall? [narrator.]
While the McGees waited to see if the recall would succeed, their lawsuit against IKEA reached a conclusion.
IKEA agreed to a $50 million settlement to be split between the three families.
It was one of the largest wrongful death settlements of its kind.
The amount of the settlement had to reflect the guilt of IKEA.
And I think that's what happened in the end.
It was never about the money.
It was about them admitting guilt and doing something about it.
In addition, IKEA agreed to redesign the MALM to finally meet the voluntary standard of remaining upright with 50 pounds hanging from the top drawer.
We made them only manufacture dressers that met the voluntary standard that's an absolute minimal stability standard.
I would like to emphasize that MALM and all other chest of drawers are perfectly safe when attached to the wall, according to the instruction in the assembly instruction.
IKEA is meeting all mandatory requirements and testing standards where those products are sold.
[suspenseful music plays.]
That's IKEA's story now.
But one thing the parents' lawsuit alleged was that for years, IKEA knew from its own testing that its dressers were unstable and posed hazards to consumers and chose to sell them anyway.
In fact, IKEA's own instruction manual released in 2002 with the first MALM dresser suggests that they aware of the threat from the very beginning.
It was the responsibility of the buyer to make the dresser safe.
I was hugely disappointed in IKEA's approach to this entire danger.
They knew kids were dying, and I have absolutely no clue what their inner workings are that resulted in them behaving the way they did, but it was really quite outrageous.
I can't have any comments about any settlements or litigation, according to confidentiality.
But I can tell you that my heart goes out to those families that have suffered those tragic losses.
As for the recall, it hasn't worked.
Of the 29 million recalled dressers, only a tiny fraction have actually been returned.
We've still got millions of dressers out there, and they continue to kill kids.
Josef Dudek is the latest victim, crushed under the weight of an IKEA MALM dresser in May this year.
In May 2017, a California toddler was killed by one of IKEA's recalled MALM dressers.
His parents had never heard about the recall.
[music fades out.]
Once a recall happens, it is too late.
These are in people's homes, and people don't hear about recalls, because of the flawed recall system that we have.
Today, families of the victims are coming together and taking matters into their own hands.
You know, what I find, like, mind-blowing is the number one question was like, "You didn't hear it fall?" Like, mind-blowing.
"No, of course I didn't hear it fall, because his body softened the blow.
" I was just two rooms down.
And my daughter was playing.
Nobody heard anything.
I went down to wake Shane from his nap and I found him under his dresser.
We started CPR right away.
Called 911.
All the while, a four-and-a-half-year-old is watching this.
And she's yelling at us, "Don't hurt him.
" Our younger daughter is 16 months old, and she came to me and she said, "Mommy, how long is Kaia gonna be a baby?" And I said, "Oh, for a little while longer.
" She goes, "I hope it's a long while [crying.]
because when I was a baby, Camden died.
And when [sobs.]
I grew up, he wasn't here anymore.
" [weeping.]
So she's terrified that if Kaia grows up that she's going to die.
That's why we do this.
Because we don't want this to happen to anybody else.
Another family should not find their child under a dresser.
This is something within our power that we can control.
Janet McGee helped create an organization called Parents Against Tipovers to educate families and advocate for change.
I became an advocate because I felt I had to.
It's what I'm supposed to be doing with this situation.
I'm supposed to be taking this tragedy and being a voice for Ted and for all of the other innocent children that lost their life this way.
And using this to make change in this world.
One of the hardest parts for my family is is the fact that Charlie was a triplet.
And Um [sighs.]
every birthday [woman.]
It's a constant reminder.
It helps to know that we can all align with one another and try to make a change, a positive change, in the furniture industry and protect children in the future.
From a parent's perspective, we're wondering how many accidents have to happen, how many deaths have to happen before this problem is fixed? [narrator.]
In November of 2018, members of Parents Against Tipovers traveled to Washington DC to take their stories straight to the CPSC.
I was a childbirth educator.
I taught child safety classes.
I was that mom that childproofed everything.
I even had taller furniture that I had strapped to the wall.
But her dresser, which was small, it was 30 inches, the bulk of it, I didn't realize that something so small and appearing safe and sold by a baby store and was expensive, it had to be safe, right? But it wasn't.
There are companies out there that are selling consumers dressers that are not safe, that are unstable.
And they're asking consumers to finish making them safe by anchoring it to a wall.
And the analogy that I like to use is, it's like you sell a child's toy to a family and it has a needle attached.
And the instructions say, "Remove the needle before you let your child play with it.
" It's like, “Why don't you just sell this to me without the needle?” [Janet.]
Why are there additional steps that I need to take to finish making this safe? The problem is very much bigger than IKEA, as we found when we tested a number of dressers.
There's just a troublingly high percentage of any of these dressers that are tested that do not meet the stability standard.
The sooner we make a mandatory standard that is good enough to prevent anyone else from going through what we went through, the dressers are eventually gonna leave the market.
What we need is stable furniture, stuff that doesn't fall over.
And you start by designing the danger out of the product, period.
The furniture companies know how to make safe furniture.
They know it.
They've proved it.
When Consumer Reports tests and they say, "At all price points, there are dressers meeting the standard.
" [James.]
Heavier dressers tend to be more stable.
Ideally, you would want to have the most amount of weight toward the back of the dresser.
You want the dresser to be deep from the front fascia to the back, and you want the dresser drawer opening to be relatively shallow.
Forcing companies to take these steps is easier said than done.
Unfortunately, next time we meet with you, there will be more people in this room.
I guarantee that.
We have not abandoned movement on a mandatory standard.
We're working on it as diligently as we can.
The problem is, writing a mandatory standard is incredibly slow and cumbersome.
What can be done better is that we work collaboratively with industry, with consumer groups, with all of the stakeholders to raise awareness of this issue.
Others feel that simply raising awareness accomplishes far too little, far too late.
The acting chair right now is somebody I was a commissioner with for five years.
In five years, I never saw her one time do a single thing that industry didn't want her to do.
We need the CPSC to step up.
They've gone for many years to let the furniture industry voluntarily manage themselves, and they have failed.
We've teamed up with product safety agencies across the globe to share one message: anchor it.
The only thing out of the CPSC now is, "Anchor it.
" Because that's the cheapest thing for industry.
Nothing in terms of pressure on the industry to make stable dressers.
And all of the pressure on IKEA went away.
Why doesn't IKEA redesign to make the product less tippy? IKEA is today investing a lot of time and money, and we have a lot of good specialists working.
We are looking into different options for customers, different new innovative solutions that you have not seen before.
But they also need to be very strict controlled and tested before they can be launched on the market.
So what we know today, the safest solution is always attaching it to the wall.
In absolutely no way, shape, or form should the burden, the onus, be on the consumer.
It should be on the manufacturer to design, to construct, to sell those products to be intrinsically stable and safe.
Thank you.
[dramatic music plays.]
Kids are gonna continue to die because IKEA and the other manufacturers are not making furniture stable, period.
Until they do, there are a few steps consumers can take to protect themselves.
You can't just look at a dresser and know whether it's going to be stable.
Test it.
Just pull the drawers out.
Does it stay upright? Pull out one at a time and put a little pressure on it.
Consumers should anchor their furniture, especially when children are in the home.
They should check the CPSC website, which keeps a running list of product recalls, and they should refer to Consumer Reports, which covers product safety.
In the meantime, it's the families of the victims whose voices are most likely to spur real change in the future.
I try not to let guilt consume me, so I can move on with my life and so that we can move on with our lives for our other children's sake.
And I know that what I'm doing right now is truly my life's purpose.
I do feel like the more we speak out and share our stories, the more people begin to listen.
It's a slow process.
Far too slow.
But I do believe that we can make a difference.
[dramatic music continues.]
[theme song playing.]

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