Closing Santa's Sweatshop: How to Deliver on Obama's and Congress' Toy Safety and Fair-Trade Promises

New Report Documents Record 2008 Toy Import Levels and Safety-Policy Failures

Posted: 12/17/2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As U.S. toy imports hit record levels this year, U.S. trade policy and outdated consumer safety protections expose America's children to a flood of unsafe toys, according to a study Public Citizen released today. "Closing Santa's Sweatshop" also documents campaign pledges on import safety made by President-elect Obama and new members of Congress – 34 of whom replace congressional supporters of the failed trade-policy status quo generating the import safety crisis.

The United States is expected to import $23 billion in toys in 2008, 90 percent of that from China. Imports this year represent 90 percent of U.S. toys, which is the highest toy import level and share on record. Many nations producing our children's toys have extremely lax safety standards and enforcement. Yet, while toy imports exploded by 562 percent from 1980 to 2008, the budget of the agency responsible for toy safety, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), was cut by 23 percent, with staffing cut nearly 60 percent during the same period.

"While production of our children's toys has become globalized, our consumer safety system and its protections against injury and death have not," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division. "Our trade agreements contain foreign investor protections that promote a 'low-road' strategy of offshoring toy production to nations with lax safety standards and low wages, while simultaneously imposing limits on the safety standards and inspections we can apply to imports."

Unfortunately, the threat of toy safety improvements being attacked as "illegal trade barriers" under current U.S. trade agreements is no longer only hypothetical. The report describes actions taken by China in 2008 invoking two U.S. safety initiatives relating to state-level bans on lead and bisphenol A (BPA) in toys that China claims violateWorld Trade Organization (WTO) rules. U.S. laws challenged at the WTO have been ruled against more than 80 percent of the time.

Continue reading the full press release or download the Closing Santa's Sweatshop report (PDF).