October 31, 2009

BRIO? Indies? Toy Casualties Mount In CPSIA Trainwreck

It's been a while since the CPSIA has been in the news, or at least since anyone's sent me anything about it. The CPSC's new lead and phthalates restrictions and testing requirements for childrens' products kicked in earlier this year, and though some details are still to be decided, the contours of the new American toyscape are becoming clearer: giant toy companies manufacturing overseas and testing and certifying in their own labs are going to do fine. international toymakers and independent and handcrafted types are screwed, as are the secondhand and thrift shop industries.

The New York Times has a front page story today about the plight of the Handmade Toy Alliance, the trade group founded to protest the CPSIA's requirement for third-party lead testing and certification for basically every childrens product, including things that would never have lead to begin with, like beeswax-finished, carved wood toys.

The Times piece is nothing new, and I can't quite figure out what prompted it to appear right now, but it at least serves as a reminder that the CPSIA is still a badly crafted regulatory threat to thousands of conscientious small businesses.

Meanwhile, DT reader Caitlin reports that the owner of their local mom&pop toy store told them BRIO, the venerable Swedish wooden toy maker, is pulling out of the US altogether rather than incur the expense of third-party CPSIA testing. Brio is best known for their high-end wooden trains, which have been pummeled by the multi-channel, cross-promotional branded juggernaut of Thomas the Tank Engine. Which of course, were the toy that kcked off the big Summer of Lead Toys Scare in 2007.

Brio's been struggling with its business anyway The company was faced with bankruptcy earlier this year, and has restructured itself into three separate divisions, all focused primarily on the Northern European markets. So maybe they're getting run over by the CPSIA because they had a heart attack on the tracks.

Burden of New Safety Law Imperil Small Toymakers [nytimes via dt readers eric, john, and jc]


I fail to see how a 'testing lab' that is part of the company importing all this crap from China is really a third party. Weren't Mattel and Learning Curve 'testing' their products to verify that their Chinese slave/child labour forces weren't using lead paint before..? If I recall correctly, they SAID they were.

I sense a 'wooden toy prohibition-style smuggling operation' in the works, or at least 'alternative channels of distribution'. Small companies selling only on eBay "for the collector only", which parents then flagrantly ignore, just so they can have toys for their children which aren't Elmo, battery powered, or just plain crap.

So sad. I noticed that a gift shop by my office recently replaced it's mega-awesome Brio train display with a lame-o Lego display with nothing but movie tie-ins.

At least Ikea still sells a nice basic Brio rip-off train set. babymicah loves his.

It has now gotten worse. The CPSC has chosen not to use the flexibility that Congress has insisted it has, to grant an exception to Learning Curve to allow the brass bushings that connect the wheels to the trains. The amound of lead is not dangerous, but exceeds the amount allowed in the law. This means (1) no more brass? and (2) the CPSC really does not seem to have the authority to implement this law in common sense ways. We really need an Act of Congress to avoid a massive train wreck!

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