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Article related to: Communicating about safety
IKEA: Putting consumer safety first
From their ban on formaldehyde in wood coatings in 1993, through to the removal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) from textiles in 2016, IKEA has a track record of removing hazardous chemicals from their products. We spoke to Charlott Jönsson, Team Manager of the Laws and Standards Chemistry Team at IKEA of Sweden AB, to find out more about the path IKEA has taken to ensure their products are safe for their customers.
Being clear with suppliers
IKEA has set company-wide safety standards to minimise the use of potentially harmful substances in their products.
“We are currently working on ways to communicate more about our work with chemicals. Our customers’ safety is one of the most important points on our agenda. Our approach has always been to refrain from using chemicals that may be harmful to people. We also try to choose better alternatives, wherever this is possible,” Ms Jönsson explains.
The standards are written out in detailed specification documents, which the company gives to their suppliers. They need to follow them to comply with the chemicals legislation and stay in business with IKEA. By following the specifications, suppliers are able to minimise any potential harmful effects that substances in their products may have on consumers and the environment.
|Charlott Jönsson. |
Global standard that put safety first
When there are concerns about articles or substances in them, IKEA goes back to their supply chain to pinpoint where in the manufacturing process the issue occurs so that it can be corrected. In Ms Jönsson’s opinion, having a good working relationship with suppliers who understand their obligations and are aware about the substances used throughout the production process is vital.
“We work together very closely with our suppliers to isolate and fix any issues. It is a pre-requisite for our suppliers to meet our IWAY standards, which are a code of conduct they have to adhere to if they want to stay in business with us. They know that customer safety comes first for us, and it needs to be a high priority for them, too,” Ms Jönsson insists.
IKEA increasingly requires its suppliers to provide a breakdown of the materials used and the substances contained in articles, usually in the form of safety data sheets (SDSs). This is a requirement for all their suppliers around the world, not just in Europe. “The standards in Europe are extensive, mostly due to REACH. We demand that all of our suppliers adopt the same standards. This means that there is extra pressure on those suppliers in other parts of the world to follow the high standards for chemical safety that Europe has,” Ms Jönsson says.
“We use ECHA’s database extensively, and so are happy that it is openly available and free-of-charge. It is a key resource for us. It helps us to get information quickly and resolve any issues in our production process. This has obvious beneficial knock-on effects for our customers’ safety,” she explains.
Beyond substituting chemicals
IKEA’s approach tries to go further than just substituting dangerous chemicals with safer ones.
One example of this is the company’s efforts to avoid using flame retardants. They are only allowed to be used with IKEA’s approval but some, including organic brominated compounds and chlorinated paraffins, are completely banned from their products.
Flame retardant chemicals help slow the speed at which fires spread and reduce the chances of ignition, but since they are not chemically bound to the products they are added to, they have the potential to leach out into homes and contaminate the environment. “We don’t only want to assess alternative chemicals that could be used as replacements, but we want to develop and use better materials with physical properties that create a physical barrier that prevents ignition,” she explains.
Much of the chemical safety work goes on in the background, away from the retail side of the company, but customer feedback has a role to play in steering the company’s communication. “Our customers can help to highlight areas that we should be focusing on. If several questions with the same theme repeatedly come up, we keep a track of these, and if there is a potential concern about particular products or substances, we can address this directly with information from our supply chain,” she says.
Under REACH, customers have the right to ask whether the articles they buy contain certain hazardous substances that are included in the Candidate List of substances of very high concern. By law, IKEA, and all other retailers, have 45 days to give sufficient information, free-of-charge to their customers that will allow them to use the articles safely. “We are fully aware of our obligations as a retailer and are working hard to make sure that our staff are prepared for any questions they get from customers on the safety of our products,” Ms Jönsson concludes.
IKEA is a multinational group of companies that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture appliances and home accessories. It is the largest furniture retailer in the world; owning and operating 389 stores in 48 countries (September 2016).
IKEA was originally founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad. The company’s name is an acronym of his initials, the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd) and his hometown in southern Sweden (Agunnaryd). The headquarters are now in Delft, in the Netherlands.
The IKEA Way on purchasing products, materials and services (IWAY) is a global code of conduct for IKEA’s suppliers. It outlines requirements related to the environment, social and working conditions.
For chemicals, this includes the suppliers having valid safety data sheets (SDSs); documented routines for purchasing, storing, handling and using chemicals; records of competence and training; and appropriately labelling their chemicals with easy to understand explanations to ensure worker safety.
|From their ban on formaldehyde in wood coatings in 1993, through to the removal of perand polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) from textiles in 2016, IKEA has a track record of removing hazardous chemicals from their products. Image: ECHA.|
- IWAY standard
- Are there safer alternatives?
- Candidate List of substances of very high concern
- Use your right to ask
- The price you pay
Interview by Paul Trouth
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