Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Another perspective on toy safety and China

From Dan: Our fellow toy store owner, Mary Sisson of Kazoodles in Vancouver, WA, wrote this piece about lead poisoning and Chinese toys. To date, it's the most thoughtful writing we've read on the subject:

"The key to a toy’s safety isn’t where it was made, but how it was made, the standards for its production, and the testing done throughout manufacture to ensure that those standards are met.

The United States and Europe have the highest toy safety standards in the world. In today’s global economy, the majority of manufacturers find they have to go to factories overseas to stay competitive. Those factories are expected to conform to the American or European standards, but it has been the responsibility of the manufacturer to be sure they do. Reputable manufacturers will clearly spell out regulations up front for the factory to avoid problems later.

The Chinese government, responding to the spate of recalls, on Aug. 20 began requiring all Chinese factories that export toys overseas to pass strict inspections and sample testing before a permit is given to export. This process is expected to cause backlogs in manufacturing and possible toy shortages for the holiday season.

Meanwhile, the toy industry in the U.S. is working to strengthen safety standards even more and encouraging Congress to bolster the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has half the staff it started with when it was founded in 1973.

Lead paint on toys was the cause of most of the recent toy recalls. High levels of lead in children’s bodies can cause physical illness and harm children’s intellectual development.

Visiting China this summer, I saw another kind of poisoning — the pollution spewing out of Chinese factories that makes Los Angeles look pristine in contrast. The developed world’s thirst for cheap goods has sent manufacturers to developing countries, where pollution standards are nowhere near those we expect in the U.S. Chinese children have no choice but to breathe this thick, brown air.

'I have written against the pollution relocation within China and also from the developed to the underdeveloped world,' said Chinese journalist Chen Weihua, whom I met in Shanghai. 'Sadly, for poor countries desperate for development, environment protection is always put in the second place and sacrificed.'

So how can you ensure your children’s safety this year? Don’t shun toys based on where they were made, but find out how the manufacturer makes certain that strict American safety standards are met. A reputable toy store will have that information or try to get it for you."

Indeed, product safety is only one side of the mirror. It's time we all look across the wide oceans that more and more of our consumer products sail and make global commerce safer for everyone.

Mary's comments belong to her and are used by permission.
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