Ensuring Toy Safety an International Effort – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Last week I arrived in the United States, back from a trip to Hong Kong, which became a whirlwind tour of airports and hotels that – because of a tight schedule – I had to fit into 3.5 days. Why would I travel so far for such a short time? Because the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, together with the Toy Industry of America (TIA), was holding a conference on toy safety, and TIA wanted very much to have an American consumer organization present at the meeting. Several of my former Consumers Union (CU) colleagues, who couldn’t make the trip, suggested to TIA that they invite me because of my past work on product safety and toy safety at CU.

As intense as the itinerary was, the trip turned out to be very worthwhile for several reasons. First, this is a time of enormous tumult in the toy industry world. It was only two years ago that a crisis erupted as lead levels in toys imported from China were found to be far beyond legal limits. One 4-year-old boy in Minnesota actually died from lead poisoning when he swallowed a lead-laden charm from a bracelet attached to a Reebok shoe. I was able to reflect on the role consumer groups had played in bringing to public attention the dangers of lead and other heavy metals in children’s toys.

Secondly, I was able to discuss the important role consumer groups can and should play in the setting of safety standards. We also tipped our hat to the TIA because it sought active consumer participation in reforming the way toys are tested by third-party companies before being allowed to be imported into the United States. The rules are complicated and took months to develop— with consumer input throughout the process—but TIA’s Toy Safety Certification Program was adopted as a result.

Lastly, I had the chance to interact with a number of leaders in the toy industry, including CEO of Toys“R”Us, Gerald Storch, who gave an inspiring and important speech, underscoring that he and Toys“R”Us, as retailers, represent the interests of consumers. He insists on ensuring, through independent testing, that toys imported into the hundreds of his company’s retail stores in the United States and abroad meet the highest standards for safety.

The enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2009 (CPSIA) is a watershed event for the safety of all consumer products and has changed the way the whole world looks at the regulation of lead and other heavy metals in toys. As I participated in this conference, I began to appreciate how important it was to have an American consumer perspective, especially given the passage of this landmark legislation last year.