The BFC's manifesto for 2018-19 can be found here. It's subtitled: "The Government and The UK Furniture Industry working together" which they almost certainly are but not necessarily in the best interests of UK citizens.
Let's take a look at page 15:
"The BFC applauds the Government’s decision to set up the Office for Product Standards and Safety (OPSS). Regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations on recognition and policing of standards, it is a positive development that the UK Government is taking product safety, monitoring and recalls seriously."
Given that the OPSS (part of BEIS) has been heavily criticised by a select committee for doing nothing about Whirlpool washing machines that keep catching fire and that it produced a misleading report into the fridge-freezer that caused the Grenfell Tower fire, lying about the findings of its own commissioned report, i.e. that in fact the product was dangerous and should be recalled, it's perhaps surprising that the BFC thinks the government is taking product safety seriously. But perhaps not; let's read on.
"The BFC continues to be a strong supporter of fire safety in the form of the Furniture & Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, as amended. The Regulations are thought to have saved many lives, prevented many injuries, and stopped many house fires. Government research published in 2009 estimates that the Regulations saved approximately 54 deaths per year and prevented over 1000 house fires, which could have resulted in 780 non-fatal injuries."
The BFC knows full well that BIS's research in 2014 proved that the estimates in the 2009 report (which was not 'research' by the way, as the BFC claims) were without foundation; that therefore there is little evidence that the Furniture Regulations are saving any lives at all. The BFC is also very aware of Professor Richard Hull's findings, to quote Richard on the BBC's Newsnight:
"We burnt two kinds of sofas: UK furniture flammability regulations sofas with flame retardants and a European sofa without flame retardants and we found that the UK sofa burnt slightly slower than the European sofa but in doing so it produced between two and three times as much toxic gas as the European sofa."
It's important to bear in mind here that Richard Hull's team were using furniture constructs that would pass the regulations' flammability tests; in a real life scenario, 90% of furniture fails the main ignition test, therefore there is little chance that an FR-treated sofa burns even slightly slower than an untreated European one.
The BFC goes on:
"The BFC is absolutely committed to preserving the safety levels of the furniture industry’s products in order to protect the lives of the public and of the emergency services. This is a view that our members share: 88 percent of respondents in our survey believe that the UK is right to maintain its high level of safety in relation to furniture and furnishings."
Let's be clear: the BFC is completely aware that its members are selling huge volumes of products that are not fire safe and therefore are not protecting the public and the emergency services, as proven by the government. The BFC has never disproved this. Here, it is resorting to its one remaining recourse: opinion expressed as fact.
"The BFC also recognises that there are concerns around the use of some fire retardant chemicals due to potential environmental impacts. The BFC supports the aims of the REACH regulations in controlling the use of chemicals that may be harmful to health or the environment. "
Lies by omission here. First, they only mention potential environmental impacts of flame retardants. Vast amounts of research show that FRs are incredibly impactful upon human health. Many of the BFC's members – with its endorsement – are for example packing children's mattresses with organophosphate FRs: the very same chemicals that were banned from agricultural sprays because they're so toxic. They're endorsing the use of these chemicals while knowing that they do little or nothing to prevent fire growth. Second, while it's very noble of the BFC to support the aims of REACH, in fact REACH provides the legislative framework for the use of chemicals which the BFC has no choice but to comply with. This statement is no doubt a bit of misdirection – what the BFC doesn't want you to know is:
a) it has always supported the flame retardant industry's repetitive and deadly practice of putting new FRs on the market it claims are safe only for them to be withdrawn later when proper research finds they're toxic; but
b) millions of sofas and mattresses in UK homes right now contain the banned FR, DecaBDE, poisoning many of us as we sit/sleep. What has the BFC done about ending this continuing harm to the population? Just pressured Defra to add a proviso into its new Waste Management Strategy in defiance of the Stockholm Convention, claiming that furniture which contains chemicals, like DecaBDE, which were legal at the time of manufacture (but later banned), are not 'hazardous waste'. This means the furniture industry won't have to pay for recalls or disposal at the end of a product's life and they can continue poisoning us with the latest FRs.
"However, the BFC is concerned that the Furniture & Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations have not been updated in the 30 years since they were first introduced. Since 1988 the industry has seen huge changes, not only in materials and processes, but also to the risks within the home environment. For the past decade, the industry has been seeking a full revision of the Regulations in order to update them so they are fit for modern purpose. To this end, the industry has been cooperating entirely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but no response to the 2016 consultation to revise the Regulations has yet been published."
Believe me, the BFC is really not concerned that the Regulations have not been updated, nor that BEIS has not responded to its 2016 consultation. The furniture industry loves the Regulations just the way they are because they are a very profitable barrier to trade, giving the UK industry a huge advantage in the home market. They also do not really want to see BEIS respond to the 2016 consultation since the only honest response BEIS can possibly make is to confirm its 2014 findings that UK furniture is not fire-safe. A response which would damn the furniture industry, for continuing to knowingly supply unsafe products for the past 5 years and damn itself for putting pension-protection and career comfortability before public safety over the same period.
Finally, it's probably no surprise to find no mention of the Grenfell fire in this manifesto, given that furniture made by BFC members that is not fire-safe and highly toxic made a massive contribution to the deaths and poisoning. Which of course is another reason the BFC does not really want a response to the 2016 consultation - because if it had insisted five years ago that it was going to stop selling toxic, flammable products, the fire would not have been as bad as it was.
The BFC also supplies the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Furniture Industry Group and was recently telling all the world about a debate in Westminster Hall on 23 January this year, on the furniture industry. The current Chair of this group is Maggie Throup MP. The previous Chair, Stephen McPartland MP, was a key player in blocking changes to the Furniture Regulations (a move that was actively encouraged by the BFC), keeping them unsafe, and received a special award from the furniture industry for doing so, along with a place on the board of Furniture Village and around £40,000 a year for a couple of hours work each month. Richard Harrington MP, a BEIS Minister, has quite a lot to say in this debate although he makes no mention of the fact that UK furniture is flammable and highly toxic. The nearest we get to any discussion about flammability is when Mike Wood MP states:
"Research by the British Furniture Confederation showed that some products that come into the UK with CE approval are not properly flame resistant and can be burnt to a cinder in at little as 10 minutes, whereas a properly compliant product would self-extinguish within 10 to 15 seconds. Is he as concerned about that as I am?"
I expect Grenfell residents will be most reassured to know that the furniture in their tower self-extinguished within 10 to 15 seconds. Is the Minister as concerned? Well, he says:
"We share the desire of businesses for consumers to have confidence that the products in their homes are produced to rigorous safety requirements."
Let's just hope that those same consumers don't see the evidence on his own department's website that categorically proves that upholstered furniture is not at all safe. Whether the Minister himself has seen it is for now a matter of conjecture of course.