The Editorial: Protecting Consumers at the Expense of Manufacturers
November 22, 2010
Small and midsized manufacturers are burdened by one-size-fits-all provisions of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.
Santa will have one less helper at the end of the year. On Dec. 31, CurlyQ Cuties, a manufacturer of custom plush toys in Cedar Park, TX, will close up shop one day shy of its third anniversary.
Stephanie E. Estrin, the company’s founder, cited two reasons for the closure: the poor economy-the toys range in price from $25 to $135-and government regulation.
For Estrin and other small manufacturers, the regulation in question is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), the most comprehensive overhaul of product safety rules since the Consumer Product Safety Commission was established in 1972.
Enacted Aug. 14, 2008, in the wake of high-profile cases of Chinese-made toys containing lead-based paint, the CPSIA covers any product intended for children under 12, including toys, clothing, eating utensils, books, sporting goods, bikes, backpacks, furniture and video games.
Among other requirements, the CPSIA lowers the limit on lead in children’s products to 100 parts per million, and it bans products containing certain phthalates at concentrations over 0.1 percent.
What has raised the ire of small-business owners are certain provisions of the law that have just this year gone into effect. These require manufacturers to have their products tested for lead and other toxins and certified by an accredited third party. They also require manufacturers to attach a permanent tracking label to the product. To facilitate recalls, the label must include information about where and when the product was made. It may also need batch numbers and other information.
Depending on the complexity of the product, the law could add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to a manufacturer’s overhead. Failure to comply could result in a fine of $100,000 per violation.
Predictably, manufacturers are left to puzzle out numerous ambiguities. How often will testing need to be done? Should raw materials and parts be tested, or only the finished product? If a part is over the limit, but the final product is under it, is the product safe? Is a trade show tchotchke a children’s product?
Ironically, large international toy manufacturers like Hasbro and Mattel have the resources to comply with the law relatively easily. At the same time, crafters and small, domestic toy makers who might have benefited from an upswelling of consumer support will have difficulty complying with the new rules.
Thus, the Woodworkers Guild of Western Colorado may forego its annual donation of 400 handmade wooden toys to the Toys for Tots Program. A California company that makes clothing, diapers and toys from natural, nontoxic materials ceased operations. And, a Texas manufacturer of plush toys called it quits.
While we certainly support the goal of protecting children, we cannot condone the one-size-fits-all nature of the CPSIA. We urge the Consumer Product Safety Commission to reform the law with a healthy dose of common sense and put Santa’s helpers back to work.