“Crisis”: the explanation for the shortage of tampons in the United States Women’s news

People in need of menstrual products in the United States have raised concerns in recent months after noticing fewer packages of tampons on store shelves or being told that their preferred brand of tampons is suddenly unavailable.

The issue really caught the public’s attention when TIME magazine published an article earlier this month entitledThe big shortage of tampons in 2022: The supply chain problem that no one is talking about.

“In the last few months, I’ve visited stores in New York, Massachusetts and California – without tampons. And it’s not just me, “wrote author Alana Samuels on June 7.

Manufacturers and retailers have acknowledged the problem, saying they are working to replenish stocks and replenish stores, but women’s rights activists say meanwhile people who need tampons but can’t get them – especially Americans with more -low income – suffer.

“Not having access to menstrual products when you need them is really a crisis,” Jennifer Weiss-Wolff, an associate for women and democracy at the Brennan Justice Center at New York University’s Law School, told Al Jazeera.

“It may sound like I’m hyperbolic, but I would ask anyone… What would you do if you didn’t have a tampon or pad when you needed them?” She said.

Here, Al Jazeera looks at what exactly is happening:

What causes shortages?

The shortage is caused by at least half a dozen combined factors, explained Price Hanna, a managing partner at Price Hanna Consultants, a consulting firm specializing in nonwovens and technology markets.

The first among them are the interruptions in the supply chain related to COVID-19.

price for ob tampons on a shelf in new york
Price tag for ob tampons is visible under a shelf in New York, January 19, 2011. [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

Even before the pandemic struck, US producers imported much of the basic raw materials needed to make tampons – namely cotton and silk (also known as viscose) – from Asia and Europe, as local production was insufficient, Hannah told Al Jazeera. .

“Since the pandemic, the flow and timing of global supply chains, both for delivery to the United States and for trucks in the United States, have been very volatile and unpredictable,” she said.

Meanwhile, the United States is experiencing a shortage of labor and trucks, which disrupted the normal loading of tampons in American stores. Tampon manufacturers have also been forced to raise consumer prices as the price of cotton and silk has risen significantly in the past year, Hannah said.

Referring to NielsenIQ, Bloomberg reported last week, the average price of a package of tampons increased by 9.8% in the year to May 28; the average price of sanitary napkins increased by 8.3 percent.

News of the shortage also likely prompted women to start stockpiling, Hannah continued, while the latest contributing factor, she said, was that with the arrival of the warmer summer months in the United States, “We are at the beginning of a seasonal increase in swimming pads in the USA.

How bad is the shortage?

This is a bit vague. The American manufacturers contacted by Al Jazeera did not quantify the problem when asked to provide figures or data.

The Wall Street Journal, citing data analysis firm IRI, reported this week that “an average of 7 percent of tampons were out of stock in U.S. stores during the week that ended Sunday.” Arkansas and West Virginia are among the worst affected states, the newspaper said.

“Elsewhere, several parts of Indiana and the Jackson, Mississippi and Wheeling, West Virginia regions are in short supply, according to the IRI.

What do tampon manufacturers say?

Procter & Gamble, which makes Tampax tampons, told Al Jazeera in an e-mail statement that it was a “temporary situation”.

“The Tampax team manufactures tampons 24/7 to meet the increased demand for our products,” the company said. “We are working with our retail partners in the United States to increase availability, which has increased significantly over the past few months.”

A spokesman for Edgewell, which makes Playtex pads and ob and Carefree and Stayfree pads and sanitary pads, told Al Jazeera that “the huge shortage of manpower caused by two separate Omicron jumps” has affected the production – and therefore the inventory – of the products. at its manufacturing plant in the United States in late 2021 and with a supplier in Canada in early 2022.

“We are working with our production facilities around the clock to restore inventory and expect to return to normal levels in the coming weeks,” the spokesman said in an email.

What do US retailers say?

A spokesman for Walgreens, a large chain of pharmacies in the United States, told Al Jazeera in an e-mail statement that the company “works diligently with our suppliers to ensure we have supplies available.”

“However, like other retailers, we are experiencing a temporary shortage of brand-specific buffer in certain geographical areas. “Although we will continue to have products on the shelf and online, they can only be in certain brands as we focus on supply disruptions.”

A spokesman for CVS, another popular pharmacy chain, told Al Jazeera that the company is also working with its suppliers to ensure a “sufficient supply” of tampons in its stores.

“In recent weeks, there have been cases where suppliers have not been able to fulfill the full quantities of orders placed. If there are temporarily no specific products in the local store, we are working to replenish these items as soon as possible, “said the spokesman.

Sanitary napkins are always seen on the pharmacy shelf
Women’s hygiene products are seen in a pharmacy in London, UK, March 18, 2016. [File: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]

This is not the first supply chain crisis in the United States during the pandemic, is it?

Toilet paper was in short supply in the early days of the pandemic as many panicked consumers bought large quantities. To be continued baby formula deficiency recently caused panic in the United States as children were hospitalized and desperate families frantically searched for provisions.

President Joe Biden instructed the Department of Defense to contract commercial aircraft to fly with formula from abroad, among other efforts to alleviate the recent crisis, but shortages persist in many parts of the country.

Is the US government doing something about the shortage of tampons?

White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre was asked on Thursday whether the shortage of tampons was on the Biden administration’s radar and whether it was tracking any other potential shortcomings of other products. “I will have to check with the team what they are following. I don’t have a list for you at the moment, “she replied, without addressing the problem with tampons.

Written by US Senator Margaret Wood Hassan letter, letter to Procter & Gamble CEO Jon Moeller this week, urging the company to “take quick action” on the shortage. She also condemned the “rise in prices” and asked Moeller to “justify the price increases we have seen over the last year”.

“Access to menstrual products should be treated like any other basic good. At the beginning of the pandemic, rising prices for basic necessities such as toilet paper, detergents and hand sanitizers were rightly criticized as using the state of emergency for financial gain. “Menstrual products should receive the same attention,” Hassan wrote.

It is up to our selected employees to ensure that the costs of this shortage do not fall on the backs of the people who need these products the most.

from Jennifer Weiss-Wolfe, Brennan Center for Justice

What does it leave people to do in the meantime?

Hannah said women are probably looking for alternatives to their favorite products at the moment.

“They can recalibrate exactly how to provide this protection based on what they managed to buy this week,” she told Al Jazeera. “I think we may see some improvement in the availability of shelves in retail stores this week, but honestly it depends a lot on which store you look at and what time of day you check it out.”

However, many in the United States are already struggling to afford tampons, even before recent price increases or shortages.

or Survey from 2019 of low-income women in St. Louis, Missouri, found that 64 percent said they could not afford menstrual products the previous year, while 21 percent said they faced the problem every month. “Nearly half of women (46%) could not afford to buy both food and menstrual hygiene products in the last year,” she said.

For years, women’s rights defenders, health professionals and other experts have lobbied lawmakers to provide free menstruation products to all who need them, and to store free tampons, pads and other products in public schools, prisons and more. facilities.

“One of the slogans that many people involved in this organization … over the last few years have been is that ‘periods don’t stop because of pandemics.’ And the periods don’t stop for a shortage of supplies, “said Weiss-Wolf of the Brennan Justice Center.

“So if we have a supply chain problem and it’s harder to get products, it’s up to our selected staff to ensure that the cost of this shortage doesn’t fall on the backs of people who need those products, most of them for which their absence will cause the most difficulties. “

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