The mass outsourcing of manufacturing to China and other nations with low safety standards, combined with the rollback of consumer protections and gutting of regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), has directly led to the explosion of "toxic toys," a report finds.
The Campaign For America's Future, a Washington, D.C. think tank, today released "Toxic Trade," a report detailing the parallel trends of increased offshoring of product manufacturing by big box retailers such as Wal-Mart, and the steady erosion of the CPSC's ability to police manufacturers due to budget cuts and industry-friendly or passive commissioners.
"Our children are at risk in a new global economy," said campaign co-director Robert Borosage in a conference call. "Conservatives have cut the budget of the CPSC to the point where it's a burlesque of its former self."
The report, co-authored by Borosage, details how 80 percent of toys sold in America are manufactured in China, accounting for $7.4 billion in imports in 2006.
Meanwhile, the CPSC, which was founded in 1972 with 786 employees and a budget of $34.7 million ($146.6 million in 2007 dollars), has had its roster slashed to 420 employees and a comparative budget of $62.3 million. President Bush has proposed more cuts to the agency budget, including reducing its employees to 401.
Budget increases opposed
Borosage noted that acting CPSC head Nancy Nord publicly opposes budget increases and improving enforcement powers for her agency. "On this issue, she's more Catholic than the Pope," Borosage said.
Borosage was joined by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)/ Both favor new legislation that would expand the CPSC's regulatory authority and strengthen penalties for manufacturing or selling unsafe products.
Brown discussed his own personal testing of unsafe products he'd bought for lead contamination, criticizing Nord for "showing more inaction than action" on enforcing recalls.
"Nancy Nord must step aside" in favor of a permanent chairperson who better represents consumer interests, Brown said. "We want more trade, but we also want more protection of our children's safety."
DeLauro reiterated that "national policies have not kept pace with a changing global economy," and that "trade should never trump public health or consumer safety."
Nord's resignation demanded
DeLauro also called for Nord to step down, citing her support of CPSC policies that enable industries to vet reports discussing them for final approval. "We're long past the point of industry self-regulating and self-policing," she said.
DeLauro introduced a bill in the House last month that would expand the CPSC's authority to investigate and recall products, and require all children's toys to undergo mandatory third-party testing for unsafe defects or chemical contamination.
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Mark Pryor (D-AK) in June.
One major loophole in current recall procedure is the ease with which defective products end up on online auction sites such as eBay, even after recall notices have gone out.
The DeLauro bill would make it illegal to knowingly sell any recalled product, regardless if the seller is a retailer, reseller, or auction site.
"Robbing Children's Potential"
Also on the call was author and columnist David Sirota, who criticized the expansion of imports made without public safety while simultaneously "weakening our domestic systems that are supposed to protect us against hazardous products and chemicals."
Testimony was also heard from Marilyn Furer, a 66-year-old grandmother from Illinois who tested her own grandchildren's toys for lead contamination, and criticized both industry and government for not paying closer attention to the long-term affects of chemical exposure on children.
"[Lead poisoning] robs children of their potential," Furer said. "It can turn happy children irritable and angry...why aren't we looking at the possibility of all of these behavior disorders coming from lead in their bodies?"
"Why do we have political appointees from the presidency to the CPSC?" Furer asked. "We should have scientists and researchers" that can better handle and address issues in the consumer interest.
Furer's situation is apparently the only course consumers have to address unsafe products, the Campaign's report concluded.
"At this point, when it comes to imported products, Americans are basically on their own," the authors wrote. "Concerned parents can test their own childrens toys or bibs. Or they can hope that the companies are more responsible in the wake of the scandals than they have been before."
The report is available as a free PDF download.