When the Toy Industry Association booked a mid-July meet-and-greet with members of US Congress in Washington, the delegation had no way of knowing that the courtesy call would coincide with the aftermath of RC2′s lead-paint-related Thomas the Tank Engine recall that sparked a major outcry over safety standards in Chinese manufacturing facilities.
‘The timing was providential,’ says TIA CEO Carter Keithley, adding that the dozen or so TIA representatives and major toy manufacturers who flew to the capital had intended to focus on establishing the TIA as the spokesbody for the toy industry on legislative issues. ‘In the course of the trip, though, we had an opportunity to address the safety standards issue specifically and float the notion of initiating an industry-driven conformity assessment program to ensure that toys coming off production lines won’t harm children,’ says Keithley.
As the TIA delegation got to work drafting its program, the recalls just kept on coming. Fisher-Price joined RC2 in the lead paint spotlight, issuing a recall for 83 SKUs (1.5 million units) at the beginning of August. But attention quickly shifted to Mattel, which significantly expanded its November recall of magnetic toys in the Polly Pocket, Doggy Day Care, Batman and Barbie lines from eight to 63 SKUs. Due to a manufacturing foul-up, the small magnets in these products have a propensity to become dislodged in a whopping 18.2 million toys sold worldwide.
Aiming to attack what it sees as the root of these high-profile debacles, the TIA program will require manufacturers to bring in third-party inspectors to conduct mandatory on-site safety tests, as opposed to the voluntary in-house tests that are currently the industry norm. And bringing the American National Standards Institute on board to accredit independent laboratories to perform the conformity assessments would be an extra measure of insurance, says Keithley. At press time, he anticipated the TIA would be floating the draft of its program to the toy industry by the end of August.
In the meantime, the US Senate introduced the Children’s Product Safety Act of 2007, which, like the TIA’s proposal, calls for testing and certification by an independent party for all toys and products intended for kids five and under. The Senate’s law would also ban all toys and products lacking certification from entering the US. Hoping to avoid a government-enforced system of oversight, the TIA made a second trip to Washington to question the Senate about the necessity of new legislation in light of the industry measure they are proposing. ‘Self-regulatory measures by industry have proven to be successful and are the quintessential American prototype for safety assurance systems,’ says Keithley.
The timing of the issue’s entry into the mainstream media spotlight was also fortuitous for the TIA’s 12th annual Toy and Factory Safety Conference, which the org hosted on July 17 and 18 in Guangzhou, China along with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Chinese government. Keithley says about 230 representatives from 150 factories attended, which is about on par with the headcount at the previous year’s event. Besides giving delegates a heads-up on the proposed safety measures coming down the pike, the conference also provided a forum for the TIA to educate Chinese manufacturers about recent changes to the American Society for Testing and Materials standard, which include new requirements for toys with magnets and yo-yo elastic tether toys. The conference also discussed the International Council of Toy Industries’ CARE Process, which promotes ethical safe and humane working conditions in toy factories.