Hazard Labelling for Consumer Products

October 3, 2012

A broad variety of toxins can be found in furniture, children’s toys, electronics, and other consumer products. Everything from heavy metals to carcinogens, from mutagens to chemicals that pose reproductive risks can be found in such products. Yet Canadian consumers often have no way of knowing whether the products they use contain hazardous substances – because of gaps in federal law. Unlike in the workplace, where laws require disclosure of hazards to workers, consumers are left in the dark about toxins present in most of their everyday purchases. Law reform is needed to promote the consumer’s right-to-know the chemical contents of products they purchase. One important way to promote the consumer’s right-to-know is mandatory labelling for consumer products containing toxins. ELC student Michael McCabe spent the summer investigating how other jurisdictions have implemented hazard labelling for consumer products. For example, throughout Europe, chemical hazards must be clearly communicated to consumers on product labels. In California, businesses must provide a clear and reasonable warning before knowingly exposing anyone to a substance known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The California requirement for a prominent warning label has motivated many producers to eliminate toxins from their products altogether. Michael summarizes the European and California experiences, and reviews Canadian research and reform proposals. We hope that Michael’s work will inform the public debate on this issue, and help lead to constructive and practical law reform.

Link to the report

Michael McCabe