The Real Cost of Cheap Imports

Cheap products at what cost

Last year, in answer to a lot of questions we received about why we focus so much on products made in North America, we outlined the issues with cheap imports. The real cost goes a lot deeper than price. Low price usually means that some of the real costs of materials, production, and transportation are externalized—meaning others pay the short-term and the long-term cost of the low price.

We want you to understand the basic issues that concern us with production away from home, away from the consistent scrutiny of regulations intended to uphold basic standards of labour, safety, quality, and environmental responsibility. We want you to understand how we see these issues as connected to genuine sustainability.

Cheap Products at What Cost?

Cheaper products sometimes carry hidden costs to labour, safety, quality, environment, and sustainability of your community.

We set high basic standards for every product we carry. We start by looking close to home, then across Canada, across North America, and only then do we consider looking overseas for products to meet your needs.

In “Cheap Products at What Cost?” we share with you the actual questions we ask before we consider a new supplier.

Imports at What Cost? Labour

The cost of cheap products is unfair labour

Outsourcing labour and importing cheap goods can mean that workers who produce those goods are not fairly paid. Those workers pay the real cost of cheap imports.

When we reach for cheap products, they don’t cost any less than the expensive products. They just externalize costs—that is, someone else pays the true cost of the product. When the factor that allows the cost to stay low is labour, the person who works in the field or in the factory for less than a fair wage is the one who pays. The real cost of goods includes the consequences of unpaid labor.

Organizations throughout the world investigate slave labour and child labour so you can choose products with some confidence that you know how they were made.

In “Imports at What Cost? Labour,” we look at the consequences of unpaid and underpaid labour.

Imports at What Cost? Safety

Baby chewing on plastic ring

Buying cheap imports that use inferior materials, shortcuts in assembly, or even badly copied designs to keep costs low can be a safety risk for your child.

When that product is inexpensive at the cost of safety, though, it is your baby who can pay. Injury or worse because of an unsafe baby product is part of the real cost of products that are made not to meet the needs of babies.

We take seriously standards of safety, quality of materials, and quality of work. We work with companies that understand the products they make and make they well.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Safety” to learn more about how you can be confident the products you buy meet high safety standards.

Imports at What Cost? Quality

At What Cost Quality

When you buy low-quality imports, you pay in safety and durability—and sometimes you pay at the store twice when you replace cheap products.

Quality isn’t necessarily your primary concern when you are looking for low-cost toys, diapers, clothing, and other children’s products. Many companies outsource production to keep costs low, which allows importers to sell to North American markets at lower prices than products Made in Canada or Made in USA. Often quality suffers for cost.

Quality and safety issues overlap. Quality can also mean an issue of durability when toys break as soon as children play with them.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Quality” to learn more about the toy recalls of 2007 that sparked a new wave of children’s product safety laws in Canada and the United States.

Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

In “Imports at What Cost? Environment,” read about the environmental impact in first Mexico and now China of production for export the North American market.

Imports at What Cost? Sustainability

Sometimes the cost of cheap imports is sustainability both local and global

Truly sustainable products don’t pass on real costs to others but accept and embrace the real costs, redesigning the product and the supply chain not to externalize the costs but to internalize the benefits.

Cheap imports are cheap precisely because they cut costs by cutting corners—pay less for labour, think less about quality, design less for safety, and don’t worry about the environment. Good business? Only in the moment. In the long term, these short-term savings leave us with big bills to pay.

Learn what sustainability looks like in “Imports at What Cost? Sustainability.”

What is the solution? Buy local. Local businesses are better at understanding your needs, and local businesses contribute to your community in ways that help you, them, and all of your neighbors.

Visit us at bynature.ca in Orillia, Ontario.

Imports at What Cost? Sustainability

Sometimes the cost of cheap imports is sustainability both local and global

Cheap imports are cheap precisely because they cut costs by cutting corners—pay less for labour, think less about quality, design less for safety, and don’t worry about the environment. Good business? Only in the moment. In the long term, these short-term savings leave us with big bills to pay.

Over the past month, we have been looking at the true costs of cheap imports. In the cases of unpaid labor, unsafe products, low quality, and pollution, we have focused on what isn’t sustainable. Today, we want to shift toward the positive to show what sustainability looks like when it works.

Give It to Me Quick
Truly sustainable products don’t pass on real costs to others but accept and embrace the real costs, redesigning the product and the supply chain not to externalize the costs but to internalize the benefits.


Sustainability

We reach sustainability when we can meet our own needs while not interrupting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, issues with imports overlap because they all lead to larger issues of sustainability. As long as we buy cheap products that externalize real costs, we have not yet reached true sustainability because we will pay those costs one way or another. There is no one answer to sustainability, but we can aim in that direction through constant improvement of our choices.

Sustainability isn’t just good for us as consumers. Sustainability is good for business. Happy, healthy workers who are paid a fair wage without being pushed beyond reasonable limits of endurance are more likely to do quality work over the long-term. Designs that start with safety in mind are more likely to become beloved products that provide profits over the long-term. Materials that don’t exploit the environment or cause health issues for those near the point of extraction or for the children who will use the final product are more likely to be stable resources over the long-term.

Yes, the theme is the long-term. Sustainability acknowledges that tomorrow matters.

Does it mean we don’t want people overseas to have jobs? Of course, not! If they build their own sustainable local economies, they will benefit in the same ways we will from our own. If they build sustainable products, there will be less hesitation from others to buy those products.

Does that mean we shouldn’t buy anything made outside our own country or even outside our own communities? Of course, not! For most of us, not everything we want or think we need is made in our local communities, anyway.

Sustainability builds on the positive at the same time that it works to eliminate or lessen the impact of the negative. Sustainability shouldn’t be about creating a collection of insular communities that seldom interact. Sustainability puts the priority on the simplest solutions and looks for those solutions locally first.


What Sustainability Looks Like

One of our favorite brands that we carry at bynature.ca is Montreal-based Bummis. They make great cloth diapering products, but that is only part of the story. They are good people who believe in sustainability at every level in their business. They are meticulous in their design and testing; they are careful in their sourcing; they are generous in their business dealings; and, by all reports, they are a great company to work for. When we look for ethical products, we look for companies like this.

Bummis Made Here

Bummis tells consumers about their sustainable products in a Made Here campaign, in which they tell

“How value for us means so much more than just money – how it has to do with integrity and standards and sustainability. And how when you buy something from us, you are buying into our dream – a dream in which business is on the cutting edge of social change and where the bottom line includes the well-being and prosperity of all.”

In addition to making cloth diapering products Made Here and Worn Everywhere, Bummis has a store in Montreal, Boutique Bummis, where they sell baby and parenting products. Before a new employee can work in their store, they learn about the store Manifesto, which starts: “Everyone that walks into the store should feel welcomed and cared about and secure. Grumpy customers should be loved more because they need it!” Every guideline in the Manifesto, indeed every product in the store, builds connection.

“Our mission is to facilitate the attachment of parents to their children by offering products, information, resources and support that will promote that attachment. And the vision behind that is the belief that profound attachment of parents and children can create a paradigm shift that can engender powerful personal and social transformations.”

Bummis co-owner Betsy Thomas sees the store “as a statement of who we are and what we believe in – a place where every day we actively manifest our company values.”

I learned about the store Manifesto when Betsy Thomas and I sat together on a customer service panel at a business conference. I was particularly impressed that these instructions to employees include statements from past employees. This shows me that the concern isn’t just with who people are in their space in the moment but with who they are long-term and who they become through their experiences. One former employee in particular wrote about how her time at Bummis taught her to naturally present “information and options in a non-biased way,” a skill she carried into her training as a midwife—a skill her midwifery preceptors said made her the most advanced student at any level because people often struggle with the skill of compassionate teaching.

I love using Bummis as an example of ethical products and sustainable business because they practice sustainability on so many levels. They are conscious of having a positive impact on all who come in contact with the company.


Organizations Building Local Economies

Many cities and towns have Buy Local campaigns. If yours does, you can get involved. You can expand and shape the way you and your neighbors think about about and act within local economies.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a national nonprofit organization supporting “environmentally sound and equitable community development.” The focus is local self-reliance, and that includes buying local. Yes, buying at a local business helps the business, but that isn’t the most important reason to support locally owned businesses. Consider local jobs, local innovations, and product diversity. Read their “Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses” for more reasons.

The Business Alliance for Living Local Economies wants to create “real prosperity by connecting leaders, spreading solutions that work, and driving investment toward local economies.” In their decade of research, they’ve come up with Core Four strategies: local first, DIY entrepreneurs, local capital, and better together. Their members are business owners and other leaders. Read their “Localism 101″ to see what they find matters in building living local economies.

Keep in mind the Local Multiplier Effect. The organizations above and many others recognize that feeding your money and energy back into you local economy multiplies the effect. Buying local is good for you in more than the way it makes you feel. Research shows that when you buy local, $.45 of every dollar is reinvested locally; when you spend a dollar at a corporate chain, only $.15 of that is reinvested locally. Your money works harder in ways you will notice when you spend it locally. This Local Multiplied Effect feeds back into your own community and creates greater wealth than exporting your money to corporate headquarters.


What You Can Do

  • Avoid exploitation. You need to know more about the products you buy in order to know whether workers or environment were exploited to produce them.
  • Be a localist. Look for local solutions first without avoiding solutions from afar when they really will work for you.
  • Only buy what you need.
  • Buy what you need from people you trust. Especially with parenting products for new parents, you need support. You need to know how to use a baby carrier or a cloth diaper. The questions you want to ask are sometimes quite personal. Building a trusting relationship with a knowledgeable store owner can help you focus on what you really need and avoid those baby products you might leave on the shelf and never use.
  • Meet more people so you can develop more of those trusting relationships. When people trust one another, they are accountable to one another.
  • When you do buy, look for products that meet high standards. At bynature.ca we help you with that by adding the icons for our Safe Family Promise to every product in our store.
  • Think about what makes you happy and put your focus there.
  • Shift your focus from stuff to relationships between people. The Canadian Index of Well Being includes tools to help you build resilient local communities.
  • Be part of the change in your local community, building a local economy that is more focused on happiness than stuff.
  • Don’t get caught up in the negative. Reading about child and forced labor can be devastating. Work to right the wrongs, but also work to enhance the rights in your life. Feed the positive relationships in your community.


True Sustainability

True sustainability acknowledges true costs. Businesses that measure their success by a triple bottom line of People Planet Profit already understand that paying up front for people and planet pays dividends to them and their customers in the long run. We don’t need to embrace business that puts profit ahead of people and planet. If we want to give our children the same chances that we have, we can’t put profit ahead of them and their future.

When Betsy Thomas talks about Bummis, one of the things that really sticks with me is her observation that new parents turn naturally toward sustainability when their children are born because children give a face to the future. You and I as parents have a passionate stake in long-term sustainability through our children.

More in this series

Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

Give It to Me Quick

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.


Issues

Having a child means environmental impact. There is no way around that fact. It’s just math. Every human being has an environmental impact, some have more impact than others, and the collective impact of all of us together is not sustainable.

Part of our personal impact includes the real environmental costs of the seemingly benign products we let into our lives. Making stuff has an impact, and sometimes that impact is far greater than it needs to be.

Implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994 meant a de-industrialization of Canada and the U.S. while factories and jobs moved to Mexico. Despite a Commission for Environmental Cooperation between the North American countries, pollution in Mexico was immediate and overwhelming near maquiladoras—factories in Mexico near the U.S. border producing goods for export.

Mexico, though, was an issue of the 1990s; in the past decade, industry and concern has shifted to China. Environmental impacts of moving industry to Mexico pale in comparison with impacts of massive growth in China.

Pollution in China is epic. Severe pollution not only creates an economic burden for the Chinese people, it threatens political stability.

“Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.” ~ “As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes,” Choking on Growth, part 1, New York Times, August 26, 2007.

Pollution is only part of the problem. Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and desertification over 30% of China’s land signal long-term problems. It isn’t just that growth is unsustainable; Chinese growth is sending them careening toward collapse. Chinese citizens certainly aren’t unaware of the impacts of these factories, and some protest. Especially since the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has turned to environmental regulations and adjusted growth philosophies to lessen the impact of massive growth on their people.

It costs to make extraction and production processes cleaner. When those of us who live in places with tight environmental regulations take production to a place that doesn’t impose those regulatory costs, that means the price of the final product won’t have to cover the cost of environmental damage.

That doesn’t mean there is no cost to that environmental damage. Costs are simply externalized. Externality is a common concept in economics whereby the producer does not directly incur the inevitable cost. A business maximizes profits by forcing the problem onto someone else. In the case of pollution, the state might pay for clean up or for other consequences, the local community might pay through lower quality of life, and the workers might pay with their health.

Look at the tags on your baby’s clothing and the boxes for toys and car seats. Where are your baby’s products made? High environmental costs in exchange for low product costs will happen everywhere you don’t find tight regulation. And, sometimes, even where there is tight regulation, you end up with the high cost of environmental accidents.


Diaper Plant Explosion

When a Japanese chemical factory exploded in September, it became global news because of the chemical they make and how much they make of it. Nippon Shokubai Co makes 20% of the super-absorbent polymers used in disposable diapers globally. The focus of news stories was an anticipation of disposable diaper shortages around the world, but the rest of the story was the local environmental impact of an explosion and fire so big that local people thought it was another earthquake.

In addition to the everyday environmental impact of throwing 16 billion plastic diapers into landfill in the U.S. alone, accidents and the environmental impact of extraction and production have to be calculated into overall impact of diapers or of any product.


Clean Diapers

Some choices leave a child’s environmental impact higher than others. Using cloth diapers means avoiding the 8,000 disposable diapers you would have used and the waste they generate both as 3% of all municipal solid waste in the landfill [Lehrburger] and in production overseas where lax or non-existent environmental regulation allows companies to shave their costs through pollution.

Use any reusable diaper, even a cloth diaper made from oil or gas (polyester, PUL, microfiber, and so on), and you will lower your baby’s environmental impact. Make smart laundry choices, and you will lower the impact more. If you buy organic cotton prefold diapers with diaper covers made here in Canada by Bummis, you lower your impact even more. You don’t avoid all environmental impact of a child by choosing cloth diapers, but you lower that impact significantly.


The Institute for Sustainable Communities

For 20 years the Institute for Sustainable Communities has been helping communities around the world address environmental, economic, and social challenges to make their own community more sustainable. They train and inspire local people to improve quality of life.

Through the Environmental Health and Safety Academies in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu where most Chinese manufacturing takes place, they are training thousands of factory managers every year in best practices to lower environmental impacts and boost efficiency through safety.

They want donations. The work they do isn’t simple. “We are not interested in quick fixes. When you give to ISC, you invest in lasting solutions to the climate change crisis.”


What You Can Do

Only buy imports if you know something about their manufacture. Favor products and brands that aren’t externalizing environmental costs by outsourcing to countries with loose environmental regulation.

Lower your overall impact with a focus on the three areas that account for 70-80% of the global total of environmental impact: transportation, food, and home energy.


Resources

More in this series

Imports at What Cost? Quality

At What Cost Quality

Quality isn’t necessarily your primary concern when you are looking for low-cost toys, diapers, clothing, and other children’s products. Many companies outsource production to keep costs low, which allows importers to sell to North American markets at lower prices than products Made in Canada or Made in USA. Often quality suffers for cost.

Over the past month, we’ve been looking at the real costs of imported children’s products. Today we look at quality of imported children’s products.

Give It to Me Quick

When you buy low-quality imports, you pay in safety and durability—and sometimes you pay at the store twice when you replace cheap products.


Quality Issues

Issues with imports overlap because they all lead to larger issues of sustainability.

Quality can be a safety issue. Last week, I wrote about safety and what you can do to ensure that you don’t buy unsafe children’s products. In some cases, safety issues are caused by inferior materials. As a matter of fact, the rash of recalls in 2007 of toys made in China and sold in the U.S. was the catalyst for safety law of 2008 after the U.S. CPSC recalled 276 different toys in 2007. Mattel alone recalled more than 20 million toys that year. A few of the recalls were for bad design, like the Easy Bake oven burn hazard and the magnetic Batman whose magnets fell off. Most of the toy recalls, though, were for lead in paint or other surface coatings. These toys were made in China with materials sourced in China.

How could so many low-quality toys come out of Chinese factories? Chinese officials wanted to know as well. Factories in China have to be licensed for export. After the recalls began in 2007, 1,726 factories in the province manufacturing the most toys, Guandong Province, were inspected, and 85% were found to be substandard. 44% lost their licenses, reducing the overall number of toy imports that year. When 70-80% of the toys sold in the U.S. are made in China, it shows on store shelves when Chinese factories fail so spectacularly.

What was the consequence of the toy recalls? A group of scholars from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) explored in 2009 consumer and stock market response to 2007 toy recalls. Parents surveyed said that they intended to change their buying habits, and researchers found a spillover effect in lower sales for non-recalled types of toys and for brands not involved in recalls. The whole industry suffered. Why didn’t consumers just avoid the offending manufacturers? Because “Consumers do not recognize manufacturers as well as they recognize brands and trademarks,” said Mara Lederman, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and one of the authors of the study. Consumers worried about the safety of all toys that year.

All of this because large toy manufacturers were cutting corners to squeeze costs and boost profits. None of the recalled toys were Made in Canada or Made in USA. Local toymakers weren’t wondering where they could get their hands on some of that cheap leaden paint or how to add a few exposed magnets to cut their costs. Small manufacturers often choose the highest quality materials and do highest quality work. They are making heirloom toys to last long enough that your child can save a favorite toy for their own child someday.

Durability is another cost issue. Inferior materials and faster work cost less, but they often result in products that don’t last as long. Making products that will break and need replacing is exactly the clever plan of Planned Obsolescence. You can’t stimulate demand by making toys that last a lifetime. The idea of making products that would last only for a limited time was a mid-20th century idea of American industry to ensure long-term sales. If toys didn’t break and diapers didn’t wear out, why would anyone ever buy more? They wouldn’t, and that would be the end of industry. You see your role in this process, of course. Once you are in the cycle, you must continue to buy as products regularly break or wear out.

The only way to release yourself from the cycle of replacing faulty, unsafe, or worn out products is to buy high quality products.


Lead-coated Toys of 2007

Lead in paint on toys made in China wasn’t the only story during the 2007 toy recalls, but it was the biggest story. In addition to the 20 million Mattel toys mentioned above, millions of toys made by other brands and under no brand at all were also recalled. It’s easier to relate to iconic brands, though, because we can recognize them so easily. Thomas the Tank Engine wooden trains are a product like that. In June 2007, 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden trains and components of 25 types were recalled. These colorful toys were coated in paint that contained lead. Now, to be clear, Thomas & Friends products currently sold are all certified compliant to the new toy safety laws.


Wooden Mite Cars

As an alternative to branded, mass-produced toy vehicles, we carry toys made from bamboo, recycled plastic, and wood. Among our favorites are the little Mites wooden cars and trucks. These are the same size as popular wooden train toys. The Mite cars are made in Vermont from local Eastern white pine and rock maple. The toymaker, Montgomery Schoolhouse, has been making wooden toys for 40 years. Like all other toymakers selling toys in the U.S., their products are also certified compliant to new toy safety laws.


Go-to Organization

ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, works hard to help consumers find quality toys. The members of ASTRA are specialty stores, individually owned neighborhood toy stores. ASTRA urges you to shop at your Neighborhood Toy Store on Neighborhood Toy Store Day, November 10th. Participating stores have entertainment, crafts, donations, or other events scheduled that day. Search for a store near you.

To ensure that you and your child have a positive experience, buy smart in the first place. In ASTRA’s Toy Buying Guide, they suggest that you “Focus on the kind of play a toy encourages, rather than on the features of the toy. (i.e. Think about what the child can do, rather than what the toy can do.)” They give helpful suggestions for each developmental level.


What You Can Do

As with issues of safety, you can ask for certificates, but this only tells you whether a product passed a test in a lab. What you really want to know is whether the product will last long enough to meet your child’s needs. A test doesn’t necessarily answer that question for you.

Shop at a local toy store or baby boutique where you come to know and trust the staff. They are experts in children’s products. As them about the quality of toys and other products before you buy.

Check customer service reports. If you do have a problem with a product, will the store help you solve your problem, or are you out of luck? This customer service site shows Toys R Us has a 7% positive rating. Their lowest score is in Issue Resolution. Ouch.

Check reviews . Start with the bad reviews and look to see how long it lasted for other buyers. Let other parents share their experience with you, and do them the favor of sharing your honest experience with both positive and negative reviews for products and for stores.


Resources

Seth M. Freedman, Melissa Schettini Kearney, and Mara Lederman, “Product Recalls, Imperfect Information, and Spillover Effects: Lessons from the Consumer Response to the 2007 Toy Recalls,” National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2009.

Eric S. Lipton and David Barboza, “As More Toys Are Recalled, Trail Ends in China,” New York Times, June 19, 2007. “China manufactured every one of the 24 kinds of toys recalled for safety reasons in the United States so far this year, including the enormously popular Thomas & Friends wooden train sets, a record that is causing alarm among consumer advocates, parents and regulators.”

Toy Buying Guide, Your Neighborhood Toy Store (ASTRA)

More in this series

Imports at What Cost? Safety

Baby chewing on plastic ring

Choosing cheap imports can feel better for the wallet at the moment of purchase. When that product is inexpensive at the cost of safety, though, it is your baby who can pay. Injury or worse because of an unsafe baby product is part of the real cost of products that are made not to meet the needs of babies.

Give It To Me Quick

Buying cheap imports that use inferior materials, shortcuts in assembly, or even badly copied designs to keep costs low can be a safety risk for your child.


Safety Issues

For the people who make and sell children’s products, safety is now about testing, compliance, certification, and meeting the standards set in U.S. law, even for Canadians. Imported products are subject to the same safety standards as Made in Canada or Made in USA products—theoretically. In practice, importers don’t always certify safety compliance of their products. No, that isn’t legal, and, yes, they can be reported, but you need to be vigilant that your baby is not the one they are testing on.

The range of safety issues might go from mistakes, like a weak buckle on an otherwise safe product, to quality materials and work, to bad design, to a fake product that appears to be a safe, trusted product.

Some safety standards address materials and quality of work. CPSIA does not allow the use of certain plastic softeners, phthalates, in products that might be mouthed. To meet ASTM standards, every sewn child’s toy must have its seams strength tested. This kind of testing is just basic. Some of the testing required doesn’t quite make sense, though. Until amendments to the CPSIA law were approved, that law would have imposed lead testing on an organic cotton prefold diaper. In this case, safety standards are guarding against non-issues, since there is no scientific evidence that one will ever find lead in a cotton diaper. When there is a potential issue, such as lead in paint on a toy that a child would put in the mouth, safety standards are an important safeguard.

Safety standards do not test for inferior materials. There is no guarantee that cheap fabric won’t rip with regular use, as one fake baby carrier was found to do. Some of the imports that we are seeing in Canada and the U.S. mimic well-known products right down to the brand—that is, right down to the faked brand. Inferior copies of cloth diapers and baby carriers are easy to find on eBay and in the stores of some retailers who prioritized cost over safety. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between these knock-offs and the real thing, but cost could be an indication of a copycat. The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance has even put together a guide to help consumers understand how to recognize a fake baby carrier. It is tough as a consumer to choose wisely unless you buy from trusted retailers or directly from trusted manufacturers.

By far the most important safety issue for your child is design. There is a big difference between a product developed over years of experience and a product introduced last year to fill a category. One example that I have seen repeatedly is the cloth diaper created by a company that specializes in baby bedding, clothing, and matching accessories. The company doesn’t know diapers, but they need one to fill out their line. Often this diaper puts microfiber next to a baby’s skin. If that manufacturer doesn’t know the product category well enough to realize that this will cause a rash, they are creating a safety issue for the babies unfortunate enough to wear those stylish imported diapers.

One terribly sad example of a product created by a company that didn’t understand the product category is the Infantino baby carrier.


Product Recalled: Infantino Baby Sling

In March 2010, Health Canada and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 1 million Infantino “SlingRider” and “Wendy Bellisimo” baby slings imported into the U.S. and 15,000 slings imported into Canada. Three babies are known to have died in these products. The problem wasn’t with slings in general but with a product that was nothing like the traditional baby carriers that have been used around the world for so long. This was a c-shaped bag with a strap. Babies were not held close to the adult. Babies’ airways were not clear. This was not a babywearing product but a shopping bag for a baby. Who paid the price for this heartbreaking tragedy of design and safety? Three babies paid with their lives.


Safe Baby Carriers

At bynature.ca, we carry only baby carrier styles that work for genuine babywearing. For us, the babywearing is the point not the baby carrier. We only choose baby carriers that can be worn safely. We have 3 carriers Made in Canada and 5 carriers Made in USA. We also like to work with manufacturers who understand their products. Many of the inventors and manufacturers of the baby carriers we offer were active in developing the standards all carriers must now meet.

When you look at the baby carriers we offer, look for the Safe Family Promise logos to find those products that meet extraordinarily high standards.


Go-to Organizations

I would normally look to consumer product safety advocates for neutral guidance on a subject like baby product safety. Sadly, I found through the experience of the CPSIA that product safety organizations I had previously trusted were less interested in evidence-based findings than rash alarm. Seeing how those consumer organizations operate close up, I no longer trust them, and I wouldn’t ask you to trust them either.

The good news is, there are trustworthy associations who understand their products and product safety. Most of them are parent inventors or store owners who do what they do because they wanted safer, more natural products for their own babies, and that desire grew into a business.

Soon after the CPSIA was passed into law in the U.S., makers and sellers of handmade toys came together as the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) to press for meaningful reform to the law. They, too, were alarmed by product recalls of imported, mass manufactured toys, yet the safety law put in place without exploration of its implications threatened to put them all out of business. They got reforms, so they can still make or sell safe, handmade baby products.

The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) formed in 2010, months after massive baby sling recalls mentioned above, to finalize the work they had already been doing to create a safety standard for baby slings. It is important to us that BCIA has worked not only with the U.S. CPSC but with Health Canada on a public education campaign to help families and healthcare providers understand safe babywearing.

Both of these trade associations represent natural parenting professionals who operate with the safety of babies in mind. I know this because I know them. When I write post after post that it is important to build trust relationships with the people who make your products, I think of some of the people involved in these two trade associations.


What You Can Do

Before you buy, look at a product’s safety record. SaferProducts.gov is a database maintained by the U.S. CPSC where the public can submit and read reports of incidents with consumer products, including sections for baby carriers and toys.

You can also use this database to find cautionary tales. One incident report about cloth diapers tells the story of a product imported from China through co-ops (where consumers get together to meet a minimum order). When the product caused a problem, there was no way to get a response from the manufacturer because there was no relationship to start with.

One of those externalized costs of cheap imports is safety and support. It costs manufacturers and retailers money to ensure that their products meet high standards for safety by creating quality designs, using quality materials, and doing quality work. Quality products often cost more. Sure, you could take a chance on the cheaper products, but do you want to?


Resources

Children’s product safety laws and regulations are more strict in the U.S. than in Canada. Products travel over the border so much that you can often confirm whether a product meets high standards by looking for certification to CPSIA, ASTM (American Society of Testing Materials) standards, or the European Union’s CE marking. If you don’t see markings on the product assuring compliance to safety standards, ask to see the product certifications (in the U.S., this is a CPC, Children’s Product Certificate). Asking for paperwork probably won’t make you popular, but it is certainly your right to know that a baby product you want to buy complies with safety laws.

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