Europeans and Americans Seek Safety Standard for Toys

Discussion
Nov 09, 2007

By George Anderson

It can be pretty dangerous being a kid these days. Colorful toys containing high levels of lead in the paint, “date-rape” beads, dangerous magnets, choking hazards… and who knows what’s next?

In recent months, one product after another has been recalled due to some safety hazard and the resulting havoc played with consumers, retailers, manufacturers and government agencies has been profound.

Having reached the apparent “enough is enough” stage, representatives of the European Union and the U.S. government will meet in Washington, D.C. today to discuss establishing a global toy safety standard.

An unidentified member of the E.U. contingent told Reuters, “We will be trying to make sure we are both on the same sheet of paper. If the E.U. and the U.S. can agree [on] a regulatory framework, then this in essence becomes the global standard and forces other countries like China to follow suit. That’s our aim.”

Members of the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament have been calling for action. In Europe, members have sought a vote to ban the import of toys from China while at home, Congressional members in the U.S. are seeking to improve the inspection process and establish harsher penalties for those who do not comply with safety standards.

Perhaps surprisingly, toy industry members are largely on board with establishing global standards and with the creation of a regulatory mechanism for oversight and enforcement.

“A new global mark is the only way forward from industry’s point of view and we have had a positive response to this idea on both sides of the Atlantic,” one unnamed senior industry source told Reuters.

“Toy companies are global companies and cannot work with different rules in different regions. It also means if we do this, the Chinese will then have to come on board, they will have no choice but to sign up,” according to the same source.

Discussion Questions: Does creating a global standard for toy safety make sense? What about a global regulatory body to enforce the standard? If adopted for toys, would other global standards and regulatory bodies be created for other product categories? Would you see that as a positive or negative development?

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7 Comments on "Europeans and Americans Seek Safety Standard for Toys"


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Dan Gilmore
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Dan Gilmore
14 years 6 months ago

You have got to be kidding me.

I suppose with the current mania, this may just actually happen, but does anyone seriously want the equivalent of the UN or some bureaucrats in Brussels setting our products’ standards? Are we that desperate for regulation?

Once you start down that track, it will be very difficult to get off.

There is clearly a cost in complying with different standards, which is why, for the most part, we don’t allow different states in the US to impose their own, but I am not sure how real that problem truly is on a global scale.

The issues right now have nothing to do with standards, and everything to do with: product design issues, huge pressure to reduce costs through outsoucing, lax supplier selection processes, and little oversight of those manufacturers in process.

We already have standards against lead paint on toys and poisons in our food and drugs. This is the bureaucrats run wild.

Kenneth A. Grady
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Kenneth A. Grady
14 years 6 months ago

From the comments, it is clear that many misconceptions still exist about liability, compliance, and the preferred path for the future. First, retail companies do not uniformly carry product liability insurance (in fact, you might be surprised to find that many well-known retail companies you deal with do not carry such insurance). The retailers look to the manufacturers under various legal theories, and the manufacturers do (or don’t) carry the insurance. Second, global standard setting is preferred by companies in many areas, and this is likely to be one of them. The complexity, cost, administrative burdens, etc., of complying with the ever growing universe of country-by-country regulation is creating many problems for companies. One global standard simplifies the process enormously, even if the global standard is more stringent than many countries would enact on their own. Global standards also fall within the realm of possibility. Global enforcement bodies, however, are unlikely to occur in the near future. Even without such bodies, global standards would help companies significantly.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

On October 25th, Mattel announced that they had finished testing most of their products. Undoubtedly, testing the remainder will not take much longer. Whether governments agree on toy safety standards or not, legal liability will reform the toy industry’s practices. Major retailers require their suppliers to cover them for product liability insurance. If a toy brand gets into constant trouble due to product liability hazards, eventually that brand won’t be able to get product liability insurance. The problem will be solved because the retailers won’t accept the risk themselves.

MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
14 years 6 months ago

Wow…the United Nations of Toyland.

Sounds like the set-up for an animated sequel gone wild.

I agree with prior postings that point out that the laws and standards are already in place. It’s proactive enforcement and accountability that’s needed.

If there’s a bright spot, it is that “Buy American” is back…that is of course if you can find ANYTHING on the shelves Made in the USA.

Gone are the days of blowing up the basement with the chemistry set, assembling model cars amid the fumes of glue and lead-based paint, playing with mercury, drinking out of the hose and riding bikes with no helmets.

It’s a wonder anyone born before 1980 and hand sanitizer survived.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 6 months ago

I agree with the others who point out that the problem isn’t lack of global standards, it’s lack of proper oversight by U.S. companies desperate to reduce costs to compete.

I’m not against global standards, they provide useful frameworks for contracting and enforcement, but they don’t prevent someone from failing to meet those standards. It still has to be the responsibility of the company selling the product to make sure it meets their own standards for safety. One potential problem with such standards is that if they replace local common law product liability laws with statutory penalties, the standards become both the minimum and maximum anyone will do. Without any risk for failing to exceed the standard, few will. And global standards are almost sure to be compromises that are *less* protective than what U.S. consumers should expect.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

My sources tell me that all paint has some trace elements of lead in it. Therefore, having a global standard on what is an acceptable or unacceptable level to maintain product safety would simplify the issue for manufacturers because they would know whether their products are within the safety limit.

Enforcement is another issue. Having a global enforcement body is likely to be prohibitively expensive and offensive to many. On the flip side, companies do adhere to quality standards in other areas without enforcement bodies. Unless companies can demonstrate that their products do meet standards, then other manufacturers either won’t want to use the products or retailers won’t carry them. Manufacturers may have to offer evidence of compliance and assume the liability if any other tests demonstrate that their evidence was false.

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
14 years 6 months ago
If we carefully analyze root causes for the recent safety problems with toys, we will find that in most cases dangerous toys were placed in the market due to design flaws/defects and inadequate process controls. This is something that only those companies that design toys can prevent. Global toy standards do exist in the form of ISO standards. The problem is that most standards address only the functionality of toys. There is rarely a toy standard that addresses the design aspect of toys. Therefore, let us stop this hysteria of blaming manufacturers and the Chinese and focus on the design and merchandising aspect of toys. And who controls that? We Americans, i.e., American companies do. The recent recalls are examples of a glaring lack of design review and process control by appropriate functions experts within the companies like Mattel. We can not shift individual company accountability by coming up with a Global Mark or a Global Standard! Requiring companies to recall unsafe products is only part of the answer. The real answer to this safety… Read more »
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