We just put out a new report, "Closing Santa's Sweatshop: How to Deliver on Obama's and Congress' Toy Safety and Fair Trade Promises".
We find that, while production of our children's toys has become globalized, our consumer safety system and its protections against injury and death have not. And unfortunately, our trade agreements take us in the wrong direction.
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.
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 violate World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. U.S. laws challenged at the WTO have been ruled against more than 80 percent of the time.
The report lays out a variety of recommendations on how to reform our trade agreements and domestic policy to guarantee toy import safety. "Closing Santa's Sweatshop" also documents campaign pledges on import safety made by President-elect Obama and Rep.-elect Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and other new members of Congress – 71 of whom replaced congressional supporters of the failed trade-policy status quo generating the import safety crisis in the 2006 and 2008 elections.