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Safety Serious Business(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 03,2008)


Toys Seminar


There is no room for complacency when it comes to ensuring the safety of the toys enjoyed and loved by children the world over

Product safety is everybody's business and should be regarded as a shared responsibility throughout the supply chain, industry leaders told a Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair gathering.

The seminar on Latest Product Safety Directives of the Toy Industry and Good Practices in Achieving Safety Standards began with a reiteration of Hong Kong's commitment to quality control and toy safety.

"It is this adherence to the highest standards of product quality that made 2007 another gratifying year for the industry," Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC) Toys Advisory Chairman Jeffrey Lam said.

The world's second-largest toy exporter, Hong Kong exported toys worth US$11.4bn in the first 11 months of 2007, up 25% over the same period in the previous year.

Exports to the two main markets - the US and the EU - were up 4.7% and 24.2% respectively, despite the numerous US and EU recalls of mainland-made toys.

But Mr Lam repeated that product safety was everyone's business. "A shared responsibility, it can't rest solely on the shoulders of our toy manufacturers," Mr Lam insisted.

"Of course, the manufacturers must stay vigilant, but designers, buyers, and everyone else in the supply chain must understand and play their parts too."

Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang noted that Hong Kong toy companies had responded quickly and effectively to the recent recalls.

"A growing number of firms have recruited their own in-house testing teams and are developing their own testing facilities," he observed. "They are using independent performance monitors to ensure that their products are safe, and all companies are subjected to heightened inspection and supervision procedures on the mainland."

Toys from Guangdong Province were of high quality, but there could be some isolated incidents on safety issues, Deputy Director of the Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, Li Qing Xiang conceded.

"The bureau is setting clear safety regulations," Mr Li insisted. "These include stepping up control of hazardous substances, making manufacturers legally liable for substandard products and making sure that they comply with local authorities' requirements."

US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Director of International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs, Richard O'Brien, advised that the US Congress was preparing legislation that would have a great impact on the toy industry.

"Both the House and Senate versions of the draft legislation show that Congress intends to push the trace levels of lead in paint in children's products, and lead in the products themselves, down nearly to zero," observed Mr O'Brien, who advised buyers "you are better off finding suppliers who simply do not use any lead."

The draft legislation would also require US companies to provide complete information on a product's manufacturing history upon request by the CPSC.

"Third-party testing will become mandatory, and toys will need labels to show production dates and locations," Mr O'Brien said. "Factories must keep detailed records about their components and the companies supplying them, which will require greater diligence in the management of supply chains."

He concluded by noting that toy safety could not be guaranteed by government inspectors alone. "It is dependent on 100% commitment from the industry itself, from end to end, to implement all best practices toward conforming with safety standards," Mr O'Brien maintained.

His comments were endorsed by the President of the Toy Industry Association (TIA), US, Carter Keithley, who said that the TIA was particularly concerned as the use of lead had been banned in the US for more than 30 years.

"Our analysis was that our toy safety standards are excellent, as they have been for years, but it was toy safety testing at the manufacturing level and inspection processes that failed us," he claimed.

The TIA had asked the US government to impose a new requirement, he said, emphasising that it "will not impose a dramatic new burden on most toy manufacturers, as many already have such testing facilities in place."

The new laws are based on five areas: testing, traceability, lead content limits, federalising of industrial standards and advertising requirements. "We want to help adopt a law that improves toy safety but does not allow unwarranted government involvement," Mr Keithley affirmed.

Managing Partner of the Strategy XXI Group Ltd New York, Harriet Mouchly-Weiss, reminded listeners that toys spread joy around the world every day and the industry needed to renew the belief in the pleasures of play.

"A great thing about the toy industry is how it leads to so many marvellous things that can be done to emphasise what play is all about," Ms Mouchly-Weiss concluded.