Toys have become a nightmare for many parents: 80% of the toys in this country are made in China and the toy recalls have shown how very little oversight ever goes into toys imported into this country. Lead, arsenic, phthalates are routinely sold to our children and many times even with labels saying they are “safe or non-toxic.” Although the Chinese imports are largely to blame, they aren’t the only problem, plenty of American companies are filling up shelves with nasty vinyl as toxic as some of these other toys, but legal.
So, thank goodness, Congress stepped in with the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which sets strict limits on lead and phthalates in any child’s product and requires manufacturers to prove compliance before they can sell them. Sound good? Unfortunately, Congress took a sensitive situation and attacked it with a huge, oversized hammer and now the little wooden toy, organic clothing, and small craft boutiques are being hit hard.
Take for instance my favorite children’s clothing company: Chapter One Organics. This company is tiny, 100% of what they make is organic and made in the U.S. by a manufacturer that not only pays a living wage to its employees, but trains at-risk women in lifetime job skills. They are small, not very profitable, but really, really good. Their founder and owner, Jennifer Murphy, is not your typical activist. She is beautiful and proper the way one would assume a debutant would be, yet it was her desire to do good for children and in the world that led her to start her company. It is that same impulse that now has her writing her senator, calling other manufacturers, and all around fighting for survival. “As a small business owner selling unique organic children’s products it is a huge blow to be lumped into the same category as a large multinational organization that is making plastic toys in a developing country and selling to big box stores.”
The issue that the small businesses have with the law is not with the prohibitions (after-all many of these businesses started from a desire to do things differently and better for children), but rather in its implementation. Because it forces every manufacturer to prove that every unique item is complaint, a Grandma that sells booties and hats would potentially have to send out her final booties and hats to have them tested—a process that can cost thousands of dollars each—even if she is buying yarn that meets a higher safety certification like organic or Oeko-Tex 100 certified.
Jennifer Murphy says, “How can [a small producer] afford to test something they make one of? A large company can spread a testing fee out over thousands of units.”
It’s not just unfair, it will also likely put many of the good guys out of business, making it harder to find the best toys in the U.S. The Washington Post wrote an article on the issue citing Selecta (every parent’s fantasy toy company) that makes carved wooden cars and characters from native woods that are then colored with natural vegetable dyes and coated with beeswax. The company is just about as green and safe as it gets. Now, though, Selecta is preparing to pull out of the U.S. market. They will continue to sell in countries that have long had safety restrictions on lead and phthalates in children’s toys, but not in the U.S. Why? Its just too dang complicated and expensive to be the good guy in the U.S. with this new law.
“There are many ways around this, such as being allowed to have parts tested before they are made into a product, “ says Murphy, but: “Currently that is not an option,“ she continues.
Local stores are also concerned. Some of my favorite small, green businesses like Green Genes and A Cooler Planet will suffer. “The life blood of a store like ours are small manufacturers,” says Heidi Bailey owner of A Cooler Planet.
“These small manufacturers that we have come to know and loved could be forced to close their doors. And all the eco-minded parents, grandparents, and gift-givers will find themselves asking, “Where can we fin natural, safe, Old-fashioned toys and products for the little ones in our lives. It is sad and scary situation to consider; these are the items that have been safe and trustworthy all along and they could potentially disappear from stores, boutiques and websites,” says Heather Muenstermann, owner of Green Genes.
The issue is upsetting to me for three main reasons:
1. I firmly believe that small businesses who voluntarily meet higher standards (like organic, Oeko-Tex 100) should be rewarded not lumped in with the bad guys. With any foresight or a little sensitivity, this law could have protected children and given additional incentives to companies using products already proven to be safe and healthy.
2. This law will punish smart, eco-conscious consumers because it will make it harder to find the really good children’s products. For the companies that do survive, they will probably have fewer items that cost more.
3. The result: fewer good, hand-crafted, sustainably made toys and MORE TOYS FROM CHINA!
Chicago may be especially culpable
The chair and vice chair of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection are both from Illinois. You can let them know how you feel about the burden that the CPSIA is putting on small manufacturers. Even if you don’t live in Illinois, calling your representative will make a difference. Find out how by visiting: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml I have also found one petition on the subject, you can sign it here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/economicimpactsofCPSIA/index.html.
I am reposting this article, originally published in December because I found a great new article that I think spells out the issues quite well. Read the Forbes article and see for yourself.