One year after Ikea recalled 29 million potentially unstable dressers following the deaths of seven children, safety advocates are issuing a stark warning:
The recall wasn't good enough.
Only 3 percent of the dressers had been repaired or returned as of January, the most recent reliable data available, a group of advocates that includes the Consumer Federation of America said. In a letter sent Wednesday to the chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they said Ikea hasn't done its part to get the products out of homes or sufficiently highlighted the threat.
"They quickly kind of gloss over the recall and go right to their 'secure it' message. Which is fine — people do need to secure their furniture," said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, a nonprofit that tracks recall effectiveness. "But their goal should be to get back as many of those 29 million dressers as they can."
An Ikea spokeswoman said Thursday that the company has invested millions of dollars, and gone beyond what its agreement with the government required, to inform consumers about the recall.
In a statement, Anne Marie Buerkle, acting chairwoman of the safety commission, did not respond to the advocates' concerns other than to say that the CPSC has been working diligently to make the recall "more effective" and that Ikea has been "cooperative" in the process. She urged consumers who own a recalled Ikea dresser but have not taken part in the recall to "do so today."
Last year's recall was stunning in its scope.
After acknowledging that three toddlers in two years had died when unsecured Ikea dressers toppled onto them, the company offered full or partial refunds for 29 million dressers, about eight million of them from its popular Malm line. Some were sold more than a decade ago. The company also offered to pick up the dressers directly from consumers or send someone to consumers' homes to anchor the dressers for them.
If unanchored, the recalled dressers pose a substantial risk of tipping onto children, the company has acknowledged. They do not meet the industry-accepted test for stability, which was created to ensure that even dressers not tethered to the wall can remain upright if pulled on by a child.
Ikea provided about 439,000 wall-anchoring kits under the repair program, then addressed 126,000 more dressers through either anchoring kits or refunds in the recall's first month.
From there, the numbers generally trended downwards, with about 71,000 products addressed in the recall's fifth full month, according to monthly reports filed by Ikea. Though more recent numbers have not been released by the agency, the safety advocates said recalls typically draw the largest response immediately following the announcement, so it is unlikely the overall number of products addressed has changed dramatically in the last several months.
The recall came after Ikea in 2015 attempted to address the threat with what it called a repair program. Under an unusual agreement with federal safety officials, Ikea was allowed to keep selling the dressers, though they didn't meet safety standards, and send replacement wall-anchoring kits to consumers who requested them.
Word of the repair program did not make it to the parents of Ted McGee, a 22-month-old Minnesota boy who was suffocated under a tipped Malm dresser in his bedroom in February 2016, about six months after the program was announced.
As part of the recall, Ikea agreed to redesign a majority of its dressers and now says all dressers it sells meet industry safety standards.
That does not address the millions of potentially dangerous Ikea dressers still in homes across the country, the advocates warned Wednesday. They said they were "dismayed" by Ikea's "lack of preparation for the recall," pointing to reports that shortly after it was announced Ikea's recall hotline was overwhelmed and began disconnecting callers with no option to leave a message.
"Many of those consumers will probably not re-engage to participate in the recall — especially with a decline in messaging from Ikea on the recall — leaving dangerous tipping dressers unsecured in homes across the country," the advocates said in their letter.
Cowles said Ikea also quickly pivoted from primarily telling consumers about the recall to promoting its "Secure It" campaign, which stresses the importance of consumers' anchoring their dressers, but not the gravity of getting the recalled products out of homes.
She and the other advocates called on Ikea to increase its messaging about the recall and on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to assess whether Ikea had met its requirements under the recall or if enforcement is necessary.
In her statement, Ikea spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss said the company had spread word of the recall in stores, online, through the media, through its Ikea Family shopper club, and in national print, digital and television advertising.
She said the response from consumers "exceeded our expectations," and acknowledged it resulted in "temporary logistical challenges."
"We will continue to invest in new ways of communicating both about the recall, and also about the need for wall attachment because the issue of furniture tip-over is not limited to one company or one product," Astra Liss said.
She declined to say how many of the recalled products had been returned or repaired and how often in the last month the company has shared word of the recall with consumers via social media.
The safety advocates are not the first to raise concerns about the effectiveness of the recall. In December, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), chairwoman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent a letter to Ikea executives saying the company's "actions to get unstable dressers out of their customers' homes have been underwhelming."
In January, Marietta Robinson, one of the safety agency's commissioners, said she was "enormously frustrated" with the recall because the focus had been too much on anchoring the dressers rather than getting them out of homes.
She said the agency was "not getting anywhere close to the response rate" she had hoped.