Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Don't just stand there, do something!"

"We're from the Government, and we're here to help."
Hailed almost universally on its passage last year--it passed the Senate 89 to three and the House by 424 to one, with Ron Paul the lone dissenter--Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is now shaping up as a calamity for businesses and an epic failure of regulation, threatening to wipe out tens of thousands of small makers of children's items from coast to coast, and taking a particular toll on the handcrafted and creative, the small-production-run and sideline at-home business, not to mention struggling retailers.

...

With few exceptions, the law covers all products intended primarily for children under 12. That includes clothing, fabric and textile goods of all kinds: hats, shoes, diapers, hair bands, sports pennants, Scouting patches, local school-logo gear...books, flash cards, board games, baseball cards, kits for home schoolers, party supplies and the like. And sporting equipment, outdoor gear, bikes, backpacks and telescopes. And furnishings for kids' rooms. And videogame cartridges and audio books. And specialized assistive and therapeutic gear used by disabled and autistic kids.

...makers of these goods can't rely only on materials known to be unproblematic (natural dyed yarn, local wood) or that come from reputable local suppliers, or even ones that are certified organic. Instead they must put a sample item from each lot of goods through testing after complete assembly, and the testing must be applied to each component...The maker of a kids' telescope (with no suspected problems) was quoted a $24,000 testing estimate, on a product with only $32,000 in annual sales.
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Contrary to some reports, thrift and secondhand stores are not exempt from the law. Although (unlike creators of new goods) they aren't obliged to test the items they stock, they are exposed to liability and fines if any goods on their shelves (or a component button, bolt, binding, etc.) are found to test above the (very low) thresholds being phased in. Nor does it get them off the hook to say an older product's noncompliance with the new standards wasn't something they knew or should have known about...Thrift store managers, often volunteers themselves, have no way to guess whether every grommet or zipper on a kids' jacket or ink on an old jigsaw puzzle box or some plastic component of Mom's old roller skates would pass muster.

"The reality is that all this stuff will be dumped in the landfill," predicted Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. Among the biggest losers if that happens: poorer parents who might start having to buy kids' winter coats new at $30 rather than used at $5 or $10.

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