NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg
I kicked off my first week on the job as Executive Director at the National Consumers League with testimony on Monday, October 1 before the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety. This group of federal agencies – 12 of them headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt – came together at the request of President George Bush this summer to assess the government’s response to protecting the public from unsafe imports. (See Leavitt’s blog on the task force.)
NCL touched on three issues: the irony in the history behind American health and safety laws and regulations; the risks of counterfeit drugs; and the relationship between sweatshop-like working conditions in China and the dangers in the products they manufacture.
1) We noted the irony that many American businesses and industries over the years had fought against health and safety laws and regulations but in fact, during the crisis over toy and food safety this past summer, with many consumer products from China and elsewhere proving to be unsafe, “Made in America” has come to mean “made safely and with quality materials that won’t endanger you or your family.”
2) Counterfeit drugs from overseas are a major threat to consumers, and we need all makers of drugs coming into the United States to be made in factories that are FDA-certified. We also recommended that this Working Group encourage consumers to buy only from Internet pharmacies that have undergone third-party certification or something like it, because the risks of buying drugs online are considerable.
3) Citing a report from the NY-based group China Labor Watch, NCL noted that many of the Chinese toy factories are sweatshops that violate Chinese and international labor laws, regularly use child labor, force overtime on their workers, dock workers pay for minor infractions, and in fact resemble sweatshops that existed 100 years ago in the United States. Pictures from those factories also show dirty factories that don’t take precautions to keep workers safe, worker overcrowding, materials piled up on the floors. NCL cited the relationship between factories that make low quality goods and violate safety standards. NCL believes that when factories are forced to open their doors to close inspection and third-party certification for safety, they are likely to improve conditions across the board.
The National Consumers League believes many consumers would be alarmed to know that the toys they buy their children are made under such dismal conditions. NCL encourages “ethical consuming” and will continue to focus on the relationships between the consumer and those who make the products we buy.