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MPs slam Whirlpool’s approach to safety and secrecy agreements

Written by: Emma Lunn
MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee have criticised tumble dryer manufacturer Whirlpool for trying to silence customers who bought defective appliances.

MPs on the committee declared it “astonishing” that four years on from Whirlpool revealing defects in its tumble-dryers that as many as 800,000 defective machines could still be present in people’s homes.

The defective tumble-dryers were sold under brand names including Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline.

The BEIS Committee’s report on the safety of electrical goods in the UK criticises Whirlpool for its slow response in modifying or replacing faulty machines.

It also slams the company’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and criticises Whirlpool’s efforts to deflect the concerns of safety organisations and customers rather than focussing on practical steps to address the safety problems.

Although the report welcomes the recall of Whirlpool’s defective machines, announced in July, it says it took “far too long” for the government to force this decision.

The report also expresses concerns, shared by safety organisations, about the safety of Whirlpool’s modification. The report calls on the government to press ahead with a new review of the safety of Whirlpool’s modification and to investigate other possible sources of fires in Whirlpool’s tumble dryers.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, said: “Whirlpool’s response to fixing safety flaws in its tumble-dryers has too often owed more to PR management than to taking the practical steps to make its machines safe for customers.

“The Whirlpool tumble-dryer saga has dragged on for far too long, leaving customers, now four years on, still fearing they may have potentially unsafe tumble driers in their homes. Whirlpool has failed to live up to the duties it owes to its customers. Whirlpool’s prime obligation was to fix the safety issues with its tumble-dryers rather than in engage in disgraceful tactics such as using NDAs to silence customers who have been the victim of fires involving its products.”

The report calls for the establishment of an independent arms-length body, like the Food Standards Agency, equipped with a wide range of civil and criminal sanctions. The report calls for this beefed-up organisation to take the lead on tackling dangerous second-hand and illegal online electrical goods and to push forward with safety initiatives such as a national injury database, a comprehensive registration and recall hub, and indelible marking for electrical goods.

Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: “Whirlpool’s handling of its fire-risk tumble dryers is a national scandal that has gone on for far too long. Despite consumers, safety campaigners and now the BEIS committee all expressing serious concerns about the ‘fix’ for these machines, there is still no end in sight to the crisis.

“It is unforgivable that because of our broken product safety system it took four years to force Whirlpool into a recall, so we need to see swift changes to stop corporations getting away with putting their reputations ahead of public safety. The government must also urgently establish whether the modification programme for the affected machines is safe.

“The UK needs a new independent product safety regulator that is properly equipped to hold companies to account over dangerous products and ensure people’s lives are not put at risk. The next government must act.”

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