REI to require UIAA label or CE certification for climbing gear

Beginning Jan. 1, 2008, REI will require that all personal protective equipment subject to UIAA standards carry the UIAA safety label before purchase by REI. On equipment for which there are no UIAA standards, CE certification will be acceptable. For the many climbing products neither addressed by UIAA nor CE standards, there will be no change with REI buying procedures.
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Beginning Jan. 1, 2008, REI will be changing its requirements for the personal protective equipment the retailer carries and sells. On that date, all personal protective equipment subject to UIAA standards will need to carry the UIAA safety label before purchase by REI. On equipment for which there are no UIAA standards, CE certification will be acceptable. For the many climbing products neither addressed by UIAA nor CE standards, there will be no change with REI buying procedures.

"In setting UIAA as the standard, REI will eliminate our proprietary tests and climbing product standards for all products carrying the international certification," said Matt Hyde, senior vice president of merchandising for REI. "We chose the UIAA standards because they are the most current, relevant and influential standards in climbing; UIAA standards include CE requirements and often are adopted as CE revisions."

Participation in the UIAA standards process is open to delegates and manufacturers from around the world, and Hyde has indicated that members of REI's team will be involved in the UIAA, bringing the company's interest and expertise in standards and testing to the organization.

REI told SNEWS® that the retailer is making this announcement now, two years ahead of the deadline, to give manufacturers as much opportunity as possible to comply with the new requirements.

In a letter sent to REI climbing vendors, Hyde stated, "The most important steps that your company can take right now are to educate yourself on the UIAA certification procedure (http://www.uiaa.ch) and become involved in the standards setting process. As always, I and the members of our climbing product teams are available to discuss this change, whether at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer show or at another time more convenient to you."

Hyde stressed in a phone conversation with SNEWS® that this change has been under development and consideration at REI for several years now. He also told us that the timing of this announcement has nothing at all to do with recent recalls and problems with some climbing products.

SNEWS® View: For those companies that are already selling product into the European market, this is likely not that big a deal. For smaller manufacturers who count on REI for a significant portion of revenue, this is a very, very big deal…and quite likely an expensive one. However, it is absolutely the correct move by REI. The retailer, despite its experience, should not be in the position of setting or establishing standards any industry company must comply with. Such a position leaves REI open for potential liability, and manufacturers might grumble over the idea that they have to adhere to one standard for REI and another for everyone else. Now, REI is forcing the U.S. climbing industry's hand by requiring compliance by a respected and long-established European standards association. The move will serve to improve quality, reduce problems and allow REI to focus on being, well, a retailer, rather than a standards bearer.

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