Much of the alarm over the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), the federal law enacted last year in response to panics over Chinese toys with lead paint and the phthalates found in plastic, has focused on the effect it will have on toys and related kids’ products, driving many of them from the market because it is too costly for handcrafters and small-run manufacturers to pay for the testing of every lot. (One protest site is entitled National Bankruptcy Day, after Feb. 10, the day the law is set to go into effect.) But the law is much wider in application than that. It also applies to a sweeping array of children’s goods including clothing, bedding, Scouting patches, and countless other fabric and textile goods for kids’ use; paper goods, school supplies, homeschooling kits, as well as library books and audiobooks, board games, baseball cards, and the like; outdoor gear, bikes, backpacks, telescopes and sporting equipment; home furnishings when marketed for use in kids’ rooms; and much more.
Endangered Whimsy is “a gallery of handmade products endangered by the CPSIA”. Just Add Charm has a CPSIA Awareness Series with other examples of products that could soon be withdrawn. There’s at least one Flickr group, too.
And that just scratches the surface. A familiar high point of many ethnic and heritage festivals is the children’s dance or ceremonial troupe in traditional costume. Yet handcrafted kids’ clothing, especially if intricate and including numerous components (beads, pendants, lace inserts, etc.) is likely to be highly expensive to test in compliance with the law. The same applies to the moccasins, buckskins, and dance gear that are cherished traditions for many Native American kids at powwows.
Some of the local press has been paying attention in recent days and the issue is beginning to reach the national press as well. The Wall Street Journal editorializes today. That attention has come only after weeks of mounting outrage at the grass-roots level, which as John Tozzi at Business Week has noted, has offered an emblematic example of the role of the new social media in giving voice to public concerns: besides alarm-raising at hundreds of blogs and forums (including Etsy and eBay), there’s been a torrent of Twitter discussion, a Ning group, YouTube, and nine Facebook groups so far. Even six month old babies are upset, or so their relatives say.
The initial reaction of many small businesspeople was to ask for as slight a modification in the law as they could, but it has become apparent that the law’s unreasonableness is across-the-board and systematic. Rick Woldenberg explains why a maze of exemptions and proliferation of categories would itself prove highly onerous, perhaps unworkable, for small businesses. Sarah at Just Add Charm writes, “it seems to me that a repeal of the CPSIA may be a better solution than trying to amend it to make it workable”. More on that idea here. I agree. Congress must repeal this bad law.