When the National Bed Federation first launched its ‘daring’ Code of Practice in 2013, no-one could have predicted the full impact it would have on the industry. As the association prepares to launch phase two of the code at this month’s Bed Show, Jan Turner looks at just what’s been learned – and where it’s head
Worrying competition from unscrupulous traders proved the driving force behind the launch of The NBF’s Code of Practice three years ago.
The concern was that more vulnerable members of the public were in danger of being hoodwinked into buying mattresses that were simply not what they purported to be. And there were some horrendous examples of mis-selling to back up those fears.
Says NBF executive director Jessica Alexander: “The Code of Practice is one of the most daring things we have done at the NBF for a long time. But we knew it was the right thing to do in the face of increasingly worrying competition from less scrupulous traders. We were also conscious that a growing appetite for recycling might result in old components finding their way into new product in ways which were not transparent or desirable.”
After launching to the trade at the 2013 Bed Show, the new Code of Practice – which requires all NBF members to undergo independent audits covering flammability, trade descriptions and cleanliness of fillings – was promoted to the public the following February. The message to consumers was that beds with the ‘NBF Approved’ logo were safe, clean and honest.
While there is still more work to do in raising awareness among consumers, the code has quickly become the backbone of the federation and given it increased visibility with retailers, consumers, and authorities. And not unsurprisingly, it has proved a powerful new reason for manufacturers to join the NBF; and a compelling argument for retailers to stock NBF Approved mattresses – not least since it was accepted as Assured Advice by the Federation’s Primary Authority - that is, a seal of approval by Trading Standards that it was fit for purpose and would stand up legally to their scrutiny.
But with increased respect and reputation comes the burden of responsibility to ensure the code is properly conducted and followed by members. Once an organisation goes in the direction of establishing standards then it must effectively police them to ensure compliance if it is to retain both its credibility and authority. And it also means regular reviews and updates.
Said Jessica: “The code has put us on the map which is mostly a good thing but has sometimes proved rather less so! We recently heard from Dorset trading standards of a successful prosecution of a trader dealing in non FR mattresses – prompted by their awareness of our efforts. And we are working currently with our Primary Authority, West Yorkshire trading standards, on a case of flagrant lying over trade descriptions.
“These are difficult cases - consumers don’t know their products are non FR; or that they might not contain those 3,000 pocket springs; or that deep or luxury layer of memory foam. So we’ve more work to do here on best practice guidelines – and with ongoing intelligence we will continue to work with enforcement authorities to pursue rogue traders where we can.”
So, where next for the NBF Code of Practice? In terms of taking the code forward, the NBF is clearly determined to raise the bar and make it even more robust.
Most significantly a new version of the Code is being introduced this autumn, including four new elements: biocide regulations, textile composition labelling regulations, EU timber regulation awareness and REACH regulation awareness. “We are also introducing a new regime of pass/fail criteria for the audits,“ says Jessica. “This takes account of improvements which we expect companies to make from one audit to the next. Those which don’t meet the expected requirements could see themselves suspended or expelled from membership. Those which do well will be rewarded with less frequent audit intervals – although we expect to audit members roughly every two years at least – it’s quite a tough regime.”
The Approved Member logo has also been tweaked to avoid confusion and misuse. Instead of having one for manufacturers themselves and one for white label products, there is now just one Approved Member logo (together with a logo for supplier members who are not audited; and the NBF corporate logo).
Much has been learned over the past three years. “There is no doubt that many of our members are now much more aware of the actual requirements of the flammability and General Product Safety Regulations they need to meet,“ says Jessica. “We have also worked hard – and continue to do so – to provide guidance and clarification on matters of trade descriptions – such as spring counts for foam encapsulated units; the use of 150cm equivalent counts on product labelling; or of terminology for so-called ‘belly bands’ of latex or memory foam.”
Auditing of phase two of the Code of Practice begins this September with a view to completing the first round by mid 2017. Says Jessica: “One thing you can be certain of is that we will continue to review the code to ensure its scope and effectiveness remain relevant to what members and the market want and expect. It has earned the NBF respect and enhanced our reputation. We aim to protect that fiercely. We also know that Approved Member status is reassuring for our members’ customers. Many now only want to buy from NBF members – we want that to continue and grow.”