National Consumers League

From the Experts Blog

NCL staff is hard at work for you playing watchdog on a variety of issues. Get to know the latest From the Experts!

Wake up, Congress! Wal-Mart Pressure on Chinese Suppliers Making Toys Less Safe

by National Consumers League staff

It turns out that more than 70 percent of the merchandise on Wal-Mart's shelves come from China. If Wal-Mart were a country, the retail giant would be China’s sixth largest trading partner. That's ahead of Germany and England.

This is particularly interesting -- and particularly during this time of year -- because it also controls about a-third of America’s toy market, making it the number one seller of toys in the United States. It's even bigger than stores that specialize in the sale of toys. We learned recently that Wal-Mart is the #1 customer for each of the four companies that have issued major toy recalls in 2007. These four companies -- Mattel, Hasbro, RC2 Corporation, and Graco - have recalled a combined 13 million toys in the past 10 months.

During the holiday shopping season, this toy safety fiasco is scarier than ever for millions of parents in the United States who may be worried about the toys their children are going to receive as gifts in the coming weeks.

We think it's intense pressure from toy retailers like Wal-Mart to continually shave costs on the manufacturing side that may have contributed to the diminished quality and safety of the toys that American consumers buy. We want Congress to take a closer look at this issue and consider what can be done to protect consumers, especially children, from the consequences of this relentless pressure on toy manufacturers.

We signed on to a letter that was sent today by and Wal-Mart Watch, joining other leading consumer and environmental groups, to North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade & Tourism, asking him to call for hearings on Wal-Mart’s pressure on Chinese suppliers.

The Post-Thanksgiving Return-to-Work-Blues: Thank Goodness for Online Shopping

by National Consumers League staff Today is Cyber Monday, the day retailers herald as seeing the most Internet-based shopping activity. In fact, some are going so far as to expect that more money will change hands (from consumers to merchants) than did even on Black Friday. If so many Americans are avoiding the mall and shopping online, how do they know whether they're perusing the virtual "aisles" of reputable merchants or about to fall victim to the sophisticated scams of con artists operating online? By getting to know our tips for shopping online safely, that's how!

FDA Announces Board Members of Reagan-Udall Foundation

by Ria Eapen, NCL Health Policy Associate

Two Fridays ago, I attended a Food and Drug Administration briefing on the Reagan-Udall Foundation following the much-awaited release of the names of the Foundation’s board members earlier that day. The briefing was led by Dr. Janet Woodcock, FDA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer, and participants at the briefing included representatives from patient and consumer advocacy groups.

The Reagan-Udall Foundation was created under Title VI of the recently enacted Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, which was signed into law by President Bush on September 27. It's the new private and independent nonprofit organization created to advance the FDA’s mission to speed up the development of new drug, food, and cosmetic products, and to make sure they’re as safe as possible. The creation of the foundation is part of FDA’s efforts to revamp how agency-regulated products are developed, manufactured, and evaluated for safety and effectiveness, as well as to help private and public stakeholders collaborate on the priorities identified in FDA’s Critical Path reports. The board is made up of 14 members, including four from industry, three from academic research, two from patient or consumer advocacy groups, and four at-large representatives. NCL and other consumer groups strongly supported the decision to include representation of patient or consumer advocacy groups on the board, and we voiced our concern during the nomination process that those nominated may not be conflict-free (i.e., have no financial conflicts of interest or ties to industry) or truly represent the public’s interest in medical research. Participants at the briefing additionally expressed concern over what projects the Foundation would focus on, how those projects would be selected, what would be produced from the projects, and whether the Foundation would be able to dedicate time towards projects on rare diseases that do not typically receive as much attention or funding.

Got Kids on Your Gift List?

by Sally Greenberg, NCL

Managing our long lists of gifts and recipients each holiday season is stretoy.jpgssful enough, even without the added anxiety over safety issues. With all of the bad publicity that toys have gotten over the past six months – with excessive levels of lead paint in trains imported from China, magnets that would be deadly if swallowed by young children, and a bizarre chemical found in the coating of some toys – shopping for kids is more complicated this holiday season than ever.

The good news is that with all the attention to toy safety issues, useful advice for avoiding hazards is easy to find so if you are shopping for holiday presents for the kiddies, don’t despair. Here are some tips NCL is offering this holiday shopping season:

Relax. Remember that any toy that has been recalled should be off the shelves and not available for purchase. As a result, the risk of buying a toy with lead paint is greatly reduced this holiday season. In addition, retailers are testing toys themselves in far greater numbers than ever before. They claim toy selections have never been safer.

Want to avoid Chinese toys altogether? It should be easier this year, as retailers say they’re offering alternatives. ToysRUs, for example, claims to carry more products from more countries than anyone and its clerks should have lists of toys made in countries other than China to help customers find what they want. Watch the age-ratings on products. A product that is safe for a 6-year-old might not be safe for a toddler. Go for safer toys. Some categories are less prone to safety concerns like lead paint or magnets. These include learning toys, board games, and the newer interactive plush toys. Watch out for small parts. Toys for children younger than 3 are banned from containing small parts, and toys for 3- to 6-year-olds that have small parts are required by federal law to carry a warning label. Sometimes those labels are absent or hard to read because of small print or unclear descriptions of the hazard, so take a close look at the product itself to ensure the toy doesn’t have dangerous small parts if you are buying it for a kid under 6.

Guilt-free Chocolate?

by Darlene Adkins, Child Labor Coalition

Who’s not attracted to this concept? For many of us – admit it – our primary source of guilt is over the calories and fat. Well, we’re somewhat mollified these days since we know cocoa is so loaded with antioxidants -- yay!

But, that’s not the source of the “guilt” I’m talking about. Remember the news reports that crop up periodically about serious types of child labor being used in cocoa growing in Ivory Coast and Ghana – the major supplying countries of cocoa? Yeah, those two countries supply about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa. And, we’re not talking about an afterschool job, but awful stuff like forced labor and human trafficking of children.

Nobody wants something like this in their cocoa. Well, in about seven months, the rubber meets the road – or maybe we should say the candy meets the wrapper.

On July 1, 2008, a system is supposed to be in place to provide consumers with some ongoing measurement of the worst forms of child labor in cocoa growing in Ghana and Ivory Coast and assessment of the success of the cocoa industry’s actions to address the problem.

We’re keeping our eyes on the process and will report back as the date draws closer. The key is for a transparent system that allows the public access to data and reports and an independent verification to ensure that what we hear about the labor behind cocoa is truly credible.