Playing Safe

Do you really want your child to enjoy playing with a toy that was made on the other side of the world by people who are no more than children themselves, and paid 30 cents an hour - a paltry sum that can barely sustain them? Unfortunately, all too often, that's exactly what you're doing.

I'm not suggesting that anybody who does this is uncaring and selfish - when we buy these toys it's usually because we don't know any better. After all, the big toy manufacturers are hardly going to tell us, are they?


So why is this allowed to go on? How can the toy giants get away with it?

Quite easily. Thanks to the way these factories are monitored, owners are warned of inspections beforehand and have time to 'clean up their act'.

While the Toy Industry Association of America has developed regulations regarding the safety of children's toys, they've done little to improve the situation for the unfortunate children who are forced to make them.

Their website explains that since a large percentage of toys sold in the US are produced in China, as far back as in 1996 the TIA developed a program to teach Chinese toy manufacturers US toy safety standards to ensure that imported toys met US requirements.

Videos and manuals covering safety in the factory and working conditions were developed, as well as fundamental health and hygiene practices, basic fire protection and ways to ensure toy factory compliance with laws. However, there's no mention of ongoing monitoring and as long as factory owners are allowed to operate without being properly supervised, little is likely to change.

A report released by UNICEF in 2000 revealed that child workers in developing countries were hidden in closets or boxes when inspectors arrived to examine the premises. Four years had passed but children were still being exploited. There's no evidence to suggest the situation is any better today and until the toy company's put pressure on the manufacturers to improve conditions, the likelihood of anything improving is practically non-existent.

Plastic & PVC

Plastic toys, and especially those made of PVC, can contain harmful chemicals such as phthalates, believed to be responsible for liver and kidney damage, as well as changing testicle development in young boys.

Some toys contain up 55 percent phthalates by weight. This affects the workers as they've been found to have a 200 times greater risk of developing liver cancer.

Choose wooden toys instead. As long as they're made from sustainable sources and have been painted with safe paints, they're far kinder to both those who make them as well as being friendlier to the environment. And they last longer, too. Just type "wooden toys from sustainable sources" into your favorite search engine and you'll be presented with a list of online suppliers.

By buying plastic and PVC toys for your children you're indirectly participating in the deaths of children who have never known the luxury of playing with toys. Do you really want to be a part of that?

Sharon Jacobsen is a professional freelance writer living in South Cheshire, England. Her areas of special interest are environmental and social issues, two subjects that very often cross.

If you'd like to contact Sharon, please visit her website at

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