Help Save Handmade Toys in the U.S.

December 9, 2008

girl-and-bear2
Friends,

Quiet Hours is not a political forum, but I am forwarding you the texts of two very important e-mails I recently received regarding the future of handmade toys and children’s wares in the U.S. The first comes from our friends at the Handmade Toy Alliance; the second is from an importer working in the natural and handmade toys industry.

There is much here to read but I urge you to do so. Quiet Hours and other “niche” retailers were established in order to provide distinctive handmade goods to families seeking an alternative to mass-produced plastic items. We take great pride in not only providing safe toys but supporting individual craftspeople, international fair trade co-operatives, and small companies keeping the tradition of hand-workmanship and craft alive. We have also been thrilled to witness a resurgence in small-scale natural toy manufacturing and crafting in the U.S.

Our ability to support such makers, as well as families’ access to their products, will be severely hampered (or eliminated altogether) unless modifications to the current Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) are made.

Read on for more details and ways you can act to keep a rich diversity of handcrafted children’s items available in the U.S.

#1 – from the Handmade Toy Alliance:

Help Save Handmade Toys
in the USA from the CPSIA 
The issue:
In 2007, large toy manufacturers who outsource their production to China and other developing countries violated the public’s trust. They were selling toys with dangerously high lead content, toys with unsafe small part, toys with improperly secured and easily swallowed small magnets, and toys made from chemicals that made kids sick. 
The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008.  Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number. 

All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels. 

For small American, Canadian, and European toymakers, however, the costs of mandatroy testing will likely drive them out of business.

  • A toymaker, for example, who makes wooden cars in his garage in Maine to supplement his income cannot afford the $4,000 fee per toy that testing labs are charging to assure compliance with the CPSIA.
  • A work-at-home mom in Minnesota who makes dolls to sell at craft fairs must choose either to violate the law or cease operations.
  • A small toy retailer in Vermont who imports wooden toys from Europe, which has long had stringent toy safety standards, must now pay for testing on every toy they import.
  • And even the handful of larger toy makers who still employ workers in the United States face increased costs to comply with the CPSIA, even though American-made toys had nothing to do with the toy safety problems of 2007.

 The CPSIA simply forgot to exclude the class of toys that have earned and kept the public’s trust: Toys made in the US, Canada, and Europe.  The result, unless the law is modified, is that handmade toys will no longer be legal in the US. Hand-crafters won’t be the only ones impacted by the CPSIA. Anyone who produces or sells any of the following new or used items will be required to comply with the law: toys, books, clothing, art, music, educational supplies, materials for the learning disabled, bicycles, and more. Any uncertified item intended for children under the age of 12, will be considered contraband after February 10, 2009. It will be illegal to sell or give these items away to charities, and the government will require their destruction, or permanent disposal.

If this law had been applied to the food industry, every farmers market in the country would be forced to close while Kraft and Dole prospered.

You can read our Proposal to Improve the CPSIA here.

How You can Help:
Please write to your United States Congress Person and Senator to request changes in the CPSIA to save handmade toys.  Use our sample letter or write your own.  You can find your State Representative here and Senator here.

 #2 –  NEWSFLASH FROM A NATURAL & EUROPEAN TOY IMPORTER

As many of you may have heard, the company Selecta has decided to pull out of the USA market effective Dec. 31st 2008.  We need your help to make sure other quality companies are not forced to make similar decisions.

While we all applauded efforts by the federal government to tighten the safety standards for toys, we all got much more than we bargained for.  The law that was passed extends to all products directed to children 12 years of age and younger, and includes such things as clothing & toys and much more, with very few exceptions or exemptions.  That wouldn’t be so bad, but there are a few requirements that, if left as is, will force most small businesses (and many medium & large sized businesses) out of business….including retailers, work-at-home moms and independent crafters making products for children. The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, at 10:00 a.m. in room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.  The hearing is entitled “Implementation of the CPSIA:  Urgent Questions about Application Dates, Testing and Certification, and Protecting Children.”  This is an oversight hearing examining implementation of Public Law 110-314 (H.R. 4040, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA)).  Witnesses will be by invitation only.
The staff briefing for this hearing will be held on Monday, December 8, 2008, at 4:00 p.m. in room 2322 Rayburn House Office Building.
 
3.

 

 

1. Existing Inventory:  The law states that any affected product that does not meet the new standard (with the exception of phthalates) cannot be sold from the shelves after February 10th.  The problem is that the law includes many new items that have not been under a previous regulation, and have not been tested.  To test these items now, on the retail or wholesale level is prohibitively expensive, and/or simply not possible.  So it is very difficult to confirm compliance (although most items in most companies would be compliant), and at the same time, penalties for selling anything that doesn’t meet the standard are very stiff.  

2. 3rd Party Testing by SKU: The law will require 3rd party testing in the future for each sku (or style).  The large pair of jeans have to be tested separately from the medium size of jeans…even though all materials are the same.  This makes testing prohibitively (impossibly) expensive.  There are other ways to form a testing regimen and be just as satisfied with the results.

3. Markings: All products manufactured after August 12th, 2009 must have markings on the package and permanent markings on the product indicating where, by whom, and when the product was made. Large corporations can afford purchasing multiple dies to do this.  Small companies cannot.  European companies with limited sales to the USA likewise cannot.

 4. Complexity: The law is extremely complex.  Needlessly so.  It is requiring companies to hire lawyers just to get a grasp of what is required of them.  Also, the requirement of including certificates of compliance of each product shipped, with each product is overly burdensome.  Electronic certificates has been approved, and will help, but even then there is a substantial cost to the additional administration—which does very little, if anything, to improve the safety of our toys.

 

5. Frequency of Testing:  Experts are still trying to get a clear grasp of this.  However, it is very possible that each batch must be tested/certified.  This is fine for large companies running 10,000 or 100,000 pieces per batch.  For small manufacturers, with small runs, it multiplies the enormous cost from point #2, even higher.

What this means is small, innovative companies that typically make niche products, will be forced out of business, or forced to narrow their product range and sell to the mass market.  Product availability and selection will diminish.  We will be primarily left with imported plastic toys from China.  Yes, quite ironic isn’t it.

URGENT Action:

The Subcommitte that put this law together is meeting to review its implementation on Wednesday.  We need to send a message to them to revise the law or its implementation in ways that will maintain the integrity of the safety standards, but will not decimate the children’s natural products market. Here is a link to the list of Committee Members.  Please contact your Representative of Congress. If any one of these Representatives on the Subcommittee is YOUR representative, PLEASE be sure to call & email them to voice your concerns about the provisions in the law as they affect you and the children’s products industry in general.  Please do this as soon as you are able. 

What else can you do?  Pass this on in your e-newsletters, in your stores, among your friends.  There is much disinformation in the market, and it is up to us to warn consumers and colleagues of the pending disappearance of the natural & specialty toys we have come to rely on in the recent years.

This is a critical time to raise our voices and be heard.  Important issues that affect us will be discussed in a public way next week…NOT after Christmas.
What else can you do?  Join the Handmade Toy Alliance, join the online community cpsia-central and become informed & involved.  Contact the media, discuss this in forums and in your own online communities.  It isn’t just small businesses that are at risk, it is the very nature of the toys & products our children & grandchildren will have access to in the future.
 
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3 Responses to “Help Save Handmade Toys in the U.S.”

  1. Deb Says:

    Great job on your post. This issue has come to the forefront of the resale industry as well. In many resale stores one will find locally or regionally handcrafted items. If the law continues to be interpreted in the manner it is, the handmade toy industry and the children’s resale industry will fail to exist. The resale industry organization is working hard to get Congress to act quickly before 2/10/09. I’d recommend this site: http://www.savekidsresale.com for more reading on this topic.

    Also, if you want to write your congress person about this aspect of the CPSIA, here’s a link, enter your zipcode and let them know how you feel.

    http://capwiz.com/congressorg/sbx/f/?aid=12389726&r=1

    Congress and the CPSC (the body assigned to interpret the law and apply the law) need to know how the american public feels about this law and the unintended consequences. The only way to accomplish this is to write and call them.

    Please become active before it’s too late.
    Thank you,
    Deb


  2. the good thing about wooden toys is that they are biodegradable and is organic too `


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