09 December 2008

It's the End of the World as We Know It

Wording taken from Handmade Toy Alliance:
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. Almost every problem toy in 2007 was made in China.

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.

And from me:

Here is the act: http://www.cpsc.gov/ABOUT/Cpsia/cpsia.html

The CPSIA is intended to keep harmful materials like lead and phthalates out of items made for children, including toys, clothing, bows, bedding, etc. The reality is the law was passed without considering the ramifications on small business owners, the WAHM cottage industry and hobby crafters. It will also likely negatively affect websites like Oompa that import European toys or Craftsbury Kids that sells high end items sold in low quantities.

The way the law reads, any item intended for children under 12 will have to undergo lead testing. This will be done not for each individual toy, but for toys made in batches. So if a company produces 1000 toys from the same batch of ingredients, only one will need to undergo testing. If a WAHM makes a batch of only 2 toys (or 1 for that matter, like I do) then 1 will still need to be tested. Testing is to be conducted by a third party testing facility.

For items like clothing and diapers, while the law doesn't read this way, it does appear that if a WAHM gets her fabric from a tested source and has a certificate verifying that fabrics testing, she will be able to use that material and sell it without having to test the item itself. This, as far as I know, applies to clothing and diapers. Toys are likely to have higher standards. No one is exactly sure how you get these certificates yet...there has been some talk about how bolts of fabric from fabric stores will have numbers on them, but I'm unsure if the number is enough, if you need the tag or if you need a sheet of paper. I'm also unsure if you will be able to photocopy your certificate and send it on, say if you were reselling fabric, or if you have to get originals from the fabric manufacturer.

No one is sure how this will affect fabric already produced. It seems like any materials that do not have this certificate will not be able to be used so come February 10th, WAHM's would need to throw away their fabric stashes, or at the very least would not be able to use it for items to sell.

Some people have talked about selling toys as collectibles that are not to be played with by children, but there have been some reports about a section of the law saying that if an item is identified by whatever percentage of people as being intended for a child, then it doesn't matter what the tag says. There is also talk about what constitutes 'durable' materials and if toys or diapers may be exempt on that basis.

Handmade Toy Alliance is an excellent resource page for this issue. There are links to forums where crafters are discussing this, to the Fashion Incubator blog as well as form letters to send to representatives and a list of changes the Handmade Toy Alliance would like to see made so the cottage industry doesn't shut down.

Everyone keeps telling me to stop freaking out about this, but I can't. There are some huge ramifications to this depending on how it plays out. Worst case scenario is pretty ugly, IMO. Toys on the shelves on Feb 9th would have to be thrown away and new toys would have to replace them unless they can prove they are lead and phthalate free. This goes for all clothing as well. Toy and clothing prices, as well as prices on raw materials will likely rise. The entire crafting industry could be shut down. Ten of thousands of hobby crafters and small business owners would be finished. Less money circulating, fewer options for our kids.

Best case scenario is that it becomes MUCH, MUCH harder for WAHM's to make items and as I've been reading, quite a few will likely just close up shop. I may have to, depending on the hoops I need to jump through and what the official ruling is on materials already purchased. I have a couple hundred yards of fabric sitting in my sewing room, plus countless notions, and if I can't use them, I can't afford to keep going. I don't have an issue selling on the down low to friends, but I couldn't keep going publicly.

The whole thing just reeks of FAIL. I have been SO happy to see the changes occurring. People moving towards buying from small businesses, supporting local crafters, buying organic and handmade, one of a kind. Moms able to stay home and be with their kids, but still help out with bills, environmental consciousness, and now all of that is threatened. I have tears in my eyes thinking about it.

I have a number to call to get specific questions answered, but right now the CSPC is really backed up (big surprise) so I haven't gotten through.

Many are hoping that the gov won't be able to keep up with regulating this. As it stands now, all clothing should be labeled with fiber content, but almost nothing you buy on HC, Etsy or eBay is labeled and the gov doesn't really give a shit. This could certainly happen with this new law too.

The best thing we can do at this point is make our legislators aware that some exemptions need to be made. Use the form letter from Handmade Toy Alliance or write your own. But do write, and write everyone who represents you, even if they're a local rep because they may be able to say someone who is a state rep, etc. Write President-Elect Obama at change.gov. Make noise and hopefully this will clear itself up so that WAHM's can keep going. You can find your senator here and your congressperson here.

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