There, I said it. It is an utter failure. We have been complaining for some time now that the CPSIA is going to kill small businesses, hurt the economy, and eliminate diversity in the marketplace. This is all true. It is already happening. Sorry, it didn't happen in a single day, it is going to take a little time to kill off all the stubborn entrepreneurs in this industry, but if you give it enough time (and in many cases, not much time will be needed), the CPSIA will certainly succeed at that.
But that is not the point of this blog entry. Why do we have the CPSIA in the first place? It was a reaction to the recalls of 2007. The public was outraged, consumer groups lobbying for safer products, , and yes, even the toy industry (including us) called on the Federal Government to establish a strict federal standard that would pre-empt pending state regulations (which by the way would have bankrupted us all much faster than even the CPSIA could do) while ensuring product safety.
So the politicians decided that they had to do something (anything) to look like they were tough on business, and strong on
toy everything safety. The result was this thing called the CPSIA. So, will the CPSIA do what was asked for? Let's see:
1. In addition to safety (which we will discuss shortly), consumers clearly wanted continued access to specialty, natural, toys manufactured by US & European companies. The recalls in 2007 sparked a boom time for retailers, manuracturers and importers of organic cotton products, natural wood toys, and other such products. Consumers were glad there was somewhere to turn. Owners of such companies were pleased to see interest in products that they feel so strongly about. Unfortunately, these products are now disapearing, and disappearing fast. Selecta has pulled out of the US market. Small manufacturers and crafters are closing their doors DAILY. Importers of quality European products are scrambling to figure out how they can possibly comply with the batch labellnig requirements that are coming up in August. Yes, that includes us.
Oh, and how do you think small importers of low run European products could ever hope to survive? You got it...switch to larger run produced products made where? China.
I have not even discussed other markets like the loss of diversity in apparel, footwear, furniture, and the crisis in the ATV market, to name just a few.
So, in terms of pleasing consumers and their demand for diversity and quality the CPSIA FAILS.
2. Let's dive right into the safety issue. All of us had such great hopes that the CPSIA would somehow ensure a greater level of safety in this country. The long standing argument for the CPSIA is that consumers want safety at any price (well, no they are not willing to pay extra, but willing to see healthy companies disappear if they cannot pay the exhorbitant price the CPSIA exacts on them). Well, the bad news is, the CPSIA does NOT make products safer.
Let me give you an example. If you want to be the best sprinter in the world, what do you do? You focus on sprinting. Do you spend half your day playing hockey, part of the day cycling, and part of the day reading, and then spend whatever time is left sprinting? Of course not. You focus on what you have decided is important.
Similarly, we have said we want product safety. We want the CPSC to focus on keeping products safe. Fair enough. So what has Congress mandated? That the CPSC spend time writing rules around lead in books (which I am still waiting for someone to show me a case of lead poisoning from books), certification (a piece of paper-even lead free paper-doesn't make my toy any safer), batch labeling (this may help in the case of a Mattel recall of 10mm pcs, but not in an unlikely recall of 150 pcs of any of my products).
Rather than focus on the ages that actually suck on products that have a risk of containing lead, the CPSIA extends to children up to the age of 12. Why do we want to have the CPSC spend its time keeping bicycles and books from 12 year olds, rather than protecting 1 year olds from lead in paint?
Rather than focus on products that have scientifically proven risks, Gib Mullen of the CPSC acknowledged today at the ICPHSO conference that they would enforce high levels of lead in a sticker, even though one would have to consumer the equivalent of one's body weight in stickers for there to be any danger of lead poisoning. This is a result of wording that only Congress can change. Why are we overwhelming limited CPSC resources to enforce non-risks, when we could have them spend their day protecting us from ACTUAL risks?
Now you can cite examples of harm and tragic accidents that have occured in recent years as a reason for the CPSIA. However, has the CPSIA actually added anything that would have prevented those deaths? In the cases that I have seen, the answer is a resounding NO. The former rules worked, and had mechanisms to improve safety in case of a breakdown. My friend and colleague Kathleen Fasanella wrote an excellent response to an attack on her on this very subject, which I encourage all to read.
More can be written about how the CPSIA HINDERS the safety of children's products, and I will do just that as time permits. However, I will concede that there will be fewer recalls and fewer accidents when there are no more children's products left. But then we will be left with the natural world again, and you don't want to know what is in that rock, or dirt, and you certainly don't want to think about all the small parts hazards found in a twig....so in reality, we will probably never be "safe."
3. In terms of the political cover the CPSIA was supposed to give our politicians, the CPSIA has failed here too. The authors of the CPSIA are rightly feeling much pressure to fix the CPSIA. So far they have blamed the problems on lack of understanding, confusion, mommy bloggers, business owners losing their businesses, complaining crafters, the CPSC, the media, Republicans, and the full eclipse of the moon. Never once did they think that the mess could possibly be due to a lousy piece of legislation, nor do they feel it appropriate that there should be a hearing on the matter, having twice cancelled. If they are so in love with their legislation, and want to set the record straight, don't you think they would want to let us know all about it? Don't you think they would like to tell Rick Woldenberg to his face where (and why) they think he is wrong? Hmmm, they don't seem too interested (or able) to do so.
I, along with other members of the Handmade Toy Alliance, met with our Senator's staffer today. The staffer we met with seemed genuinely surprised at the impact the CPSIA is having on our businesses, on libraries, thrift stores, etc. I hope and trust that we can start to see action from the Democrats to fix this law. Eventually the full impact of this law will become public knowledge (despite the atrocious reporting, and lack thereof by the national media), and this will be one more reason for the public to be disgusted at the lack of leadership by those politicians that either ignored or hindered efforts to reform this important piece of legislation. So, once again, the CPSIA has not done what it was supposed to do.
There is good reason for consumers, consumer groups, industry (of all sizes) and politicians to get together to make this legislation actually work. When it does work, it will serve ALL of us, instead of NONE of us, which is the case now.