On Tuesday, RC2, the company that produces such brands as Lamaze Toys, Learning Curve Toys, and The First Years, settled a class action lawsuit brought against them as a result of the Thomas the Tank Engine recalls this past summer and fall. As you may recall, RC2 was forced to recall many trains with red and yellow paint in June and then, upon further testing, recalled additional toys from the line in September.
I’ve been very interested to watch the fallout from the various toy recalls this past season for a couple of reasons. The biggest is that I firmly believe that consumers created this pickle in the first place by demanding such insane quantities of cheap toys. How else can that demand be met except by reducing standards and off-shoring production so that the toys can be built by cheap labor overseas? Despite our collective culpability in this issue, we can also be part of the solution by being more selective about where we purchase toys and the types of toys we purchase. If the number of “Safe Toy Lists” I received via email this past year is any indication, consumers are now motivated to do a little bit more research into their toy purchases.
The second reason I find this interesting is because this issue shed light on the ridiculously low standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Now I see companies like RC2 coming up with their own standards because they go burned so badly in 2007. RC2 has instituted a “Multi-Check Safety System” that includes the following (taken from their web site):
- “Increased scope and frequency of testing of both incoming materials and finished products, including testing of finished products from every production run
- Tougher certification program for contract manufacturers and paint suppliers, including evidence that toy safety standards and quality control procedures are in place and operating effectively
- Mandatory paint control procedures for contract manufacturers, including certified independent lab test results of every batch of wet paint before the paint is released for production
- Increased random inspections and audits of both manufacturers and their suppliers, including semi-annual audits and quarterly random inspections for key suppliers
- Zero tolerance for compromise on RC2 specifications reinforced by mandatory vendor compliance seminars and signed agreements”
It’s just too bad that they didn’t implement these more rigorous standards before they sent all those lead-laden James trains out into the world. Unfortunately, not all companies have jumped on the safety bandwagon. Even after all the bad press, the demands for safety, and the various recalls in 2007, there are several new safety recalls from the past week including:
- Wooden “My First Kenmore” Play Stoves purchased at K-Mart & Sears (I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking wooden toys are better/safer/more educational. This recall, while related to lead paint like the wooden Thomas recall was, reminds us that all wooden toys are not equal and that something is not necessarily safe or natural just because it’s made out of wood!)
- Toy Race Cars sold for a dollar at various discount stores (proof that you get what you pay for?)
- Cranium Game recalled due to lead in the dice (this one just breaks my heart because I love the Cranium games, it’s an American company, and, frankly, they just should have known better!)
The good news is that so far there have been no reports of injury from these particular recalls, so perhaps this was just the wake-up call we as consumers, and the industry that supplies us, needed to come up with safer alternatives for our children.