Product Safety: who’s looking out for consumers in Liberia?

By Charles Saye Gono

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 5, 2007


For those of us who happen to live here in the States, we don’t think too much about how safe are the products we buy? We go shopping with relative peace of mind that the products we buy will do what they were intended to do or will not make us sick. And in the rare events they do, we have the benefit of the product liability laws in this country.

But who’s looking out for consumers in Liberia? For the past few months, Chinese products ranging from toothpaste to toys have been under intense scrutiny in the U. S. because they have been found to contain potentially harmful chemicals/compounds (toys with lead based paint, toothpaste with antifreeze, etc.). If Chinese manufacturers can intentionally export these potentially harmful products to U. S. which has the means and the technological know how to test for harmful chemicals/compounds, how safe are those destined for third world country like Liberia that lacks the means and technology to do likewise?

I realize this may be a sensitive issue for the government of Liberia given the fact that China as a nation is contributing immensely to the Liberian government’s reconstruction efforts. However, we have to be frank especially when it comes to the safety and health of our people. If China is a true friend of Liberia which I believe it is, it must be equally concerned with the safety and health of its people and not take of advantage of its vulnerability. Hence, we must be able to express our concerns freely without an adverse effect on our friendship with China. True, China is not the only exporter to Liberia but the essential consumer product market is dominated by Chinese goods (toothpaste, toys, bath soap, etc.) Therefore, China takes the first blow. I’m not advocating boycott of Chinese products; I’m simply raising the issue of product safety for discussion including products from other countries like Nigeria, Ghana, England, Lebanon, and even United States.

I’m equally concerned about products from these countries and others. Take Nigeria for example, from whence our “magic cubs” come. How sure are we that these little magic cubs are not playing magic with our body chemistry-just a question from one inquisitive mind. Again, I’m not espousing doing away with our magic cubs-not just yet. How about those skin bleaching cream also from Nigeria, Ghana, and other third world countries to which some of our naive sisters are addicted? In their convoluted minds, they think lighted complexion is better. How safe are they? About two or three years ago, the government of Tanzania banned all skin bleaching cream because they were found to cause some type of skin disease.

In the United States, thousands of products are recalled every year. By the sheer number of Liberians living in the United States, one can safely assume that some of these products find their way into Liberia on store shelves or as gifts to friends and relatives. Who informs the Liberian public about those recalls?

I understand Liberia has an agency for standard whose job it is to protect Liberian consumers. When was the last time they analyzed anything or tested any products? What are their qualifications? Do they even have a lab? The only time you see these guys I’m told, is when you ship a container to Liberia. They buzz over it like flies over doo-doo demanding bribes. They could care less about what products are coming into the country as long as their bribes are paid. I bet these guys wouldn’t even know how to convert a liter to a gallon let alone determine the permissible exposure limit of benzene.

I read somewhere on the Internet about four months ago that the Liberian government was collaborating with some Nigerian Standard Agency to come up with standards for products coming into Liberia-Nigerian agency? That proposition gives me little consolation. Until we can build our capacity (labs, scientists, technicians, etc.) to analyze at least critical consumer products coming into Liberia, I recommend the following:

1. Short term

a. For starters, offer vacation jobs to upper level chemistry students to collect samples of essential products (toothpaste, lotion, bath soap, juices, bottled water, etc.) and send them overseas preferably U.S. for analysis. DHL provides freight service to Liberia and the cost is not prohibited. For example, a twenty pound parcel from Monrovia to U. S. costs about $593.00 or a little less depending on the destination in the U. S. It will be money well spent. Analysis of chemicals in products is also affordable. For instance, to analyze toothpaste for antifreeze, cost about $150.00 per sample. Liberia can definitely afford that.

b. Any product which tests positive for any harmful chemicals/compounds in excess of the permissible level should be banned immediately and the public informed via radio about the hazards of such product. I’m sure at least half of the population has radios and the other half at least knows someone who has a radio. After all, UN distributed radios at no cost at one time during the elections.

c. Impose heavy fines/jail sentence on any unscrupulous individual caught selling such product. If the laws are not on the books, they must be promulgated for the protection of our people.

2. Long term

a. Build a first class laboratory for the sole purpose of analyzing essential consumer products enumerated above.

b. Train Liberians in analytical chemistry, biology, toxicology, computer technology at least on a master’s level to staff the laboratory.

c. They should be required to attend professional development classes/seminars periodically in order to enhance their abilities and to keep pace with new technologies.

Nothing can be more important than the health of a nation. The UN uses healthcare or the lack of as one of the indices (life expectancy) for development. Product safety is a part and parcel of the healthcare system of any nation. I know the government has made some strides in healthcare for our people (vaccination for kids, opened new clinics, tuition free nursing school, etc.) but a lot more has to be done especially with regard to product safety. Do we even know all that is making our people sick/killing them? Some of the answers may very well lie in the products they use or consume.

About the author: Charles Saye Gono, MS, is a Regional Safety Manager for a major US corporation. He resides in Minnesota with his family and can be reached at

© 2007 by The Perspective

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