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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Dinner on a Budget

Young family making dinner on a budget

When you are making a healthy dinner on a budget, you balance two needs: keep the quality high and keep the grocery bill low. The more work you are willing to put in and the more you plan in advance, the less you will end up spending and the easier it will be to keep this balance.


Grow It Yourself

Can you plan dinner a year in advance? Sure, sort of. It’s not too early to plan your garden for the year.

It’s nice to eat fresh vegetables, and you may also want to preserve your own food to save money. My mother always made pickles and salsa. We seldom bought these at the store. I guarantee we won’t need to buy mint tea for a long time, but there is nothing else we grew this past season that will cover our needs for the whole year. I aspire to grow enough of one food that I can make it worth the time and effort to preserve a year’s worth from our own garden. I have two ideas for foods I think I could cover out of my garden if I focus our efforts for the year: berry preserves or pickles.

Even if you don’t grow your own food, you can buy foods when they are abundant and prices are low then preserve them yourself. Some farmers markets are in their last few weeks right now.


Buy Ahead

One way to cut costs is to buy food as it is discounted. If you want to take advantage of daily specials (“Must be sold today!”), you will need somewhere to store the food. You don’t even really need to plan in advance, as long as you are willing to do a bit of improvisation once the moment of recipe decision comes.

A small, energy efficient chest freezer costs only a few hundred dollars. Chest freezers run more efficiently than upright freezers, and they freeze most efficiently if they are kept full.


Cook It Yourself

When you’re tired and hungry, you are much less likely to make the less expensive choice for dinner. Just to for comparison, and to encourage you to plan ahead, this is what my family of four pays for a chicken dinner.

  • Eat out chicken dinner, restaurant, $40-50 (if you are lucky)
  • Buy chicken dinner, fast food, $20-30
  • Buy chicken dinner, grocery store, $15-20
  • Buy a cooked chicken, grocery store, $6-8 + another $10 for side dishes for $16-18
  • Buy a raw chicken and cook at home, $5 for 2 chickens (on special) + $5 for tortillas, avocado, cheese, and lettuce for a total of about $10 (and, it lasts for a couple of meals)

I base this on the two chickens I bought this weekend (“Today’s Special”), which provided a great Sunday lunch and dinner for about $10. We didn’t really plan ahead, but we improvised around the best deal available.

Even if you only eat take out food once a week, that can add $100 a month to your food budget. If you actually eat out in a restaurant, you add closer to $200 a month. It doesn’t seem like much at the time, but it all adds up quickly

What you need on those evenings when you are tired and hungry is something you can pull from your freezer and heat up.


Divide Meals

If you need quick, easy to heat and eat meals, make them yourself. Before I was married, I could make a huge pot of soup on the weekend and eat it for a week when I got home late. With four people to feed, we can sometimes get three meals out of one pot of soup or chili or two meals out of a dish of lasagna.

Look at your family’s favorite foods and figure out which are most easily scalable. Then, make a lot, divide it into enough for tonight and later. Freeze the rest in the right amounts for a whole dinner, and you have a very easy meal for another night. It’s your own two-for-one meal deal.

It is possible to be frugal by buying the cheapest foods, but don’t fall into that trap. Eating processed and prepared foods costs you more in health and wellness in the long run. Stick with whole foods, single ingredients that you put together yourself.

Eat well and inexpensively!

Image © Arne9001 | Dreamstime.com

Imports at What Cost? Labour

The cost of cheap products is unfair labour

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.

Give It To Me Quick

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.


Labour Issues

Labour issues can range from workers fighting for a living wage and a degree of autonomy to the far other end with child labor and slave labor. When we don’t know the details, it’s easier to cover up the realities by calling this smart business, but you need to hear the details. The details will break your heart and change your shopping habits.

The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) publishes a “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.” All products included on this list are documented to be made with child labor or forced labor. If you want to understand the consequences of worker exploitation in the name of cutting costs, skim this report.

Look at the labels on your child’s clothing. Are the clothes made in countries known to use slave labor or child labor? You will need to check in three places, because the list is broken down by different stages in the production cycle, such as agriculture or extraction (cotton), processing (textiles or fabric), and manufacturing (garments or clothing). In China, textiles can be produced by child labor, garments by forced labor, and cotton by both. In Egypt, cotton can be produced by child labor. In India, embroidered textiles can be produced by both, silk fabric and silk thread produced by child labor, and garments by both. In Pakistan, cotton can be produced by forced labor. Are your child’s clothes made in China, Egypt, India, or Pakistan?

It seems illogical that such labor abuses would be allowed, but you’ve probably heard the arguments for lowering costs by outsourcing. The global economic crisis contributes to this exploitation as companies look for ways to squeeze their costs and keep profits up. Desperate workers are exploited. Unfortunately, economic crisis also leads to cutting budgets for social protection mechanisms, so those who would normally prevent the exploitation do not. By raising public awareness, ILAB gives you the information you need to create pressure on manufacturers to stop exploitation.

The key is awareness—your awareness and my awareness as consumers.

Sometimes when we hear about working conditions in the factories where the products we buy are made, we are subject to a carefully controlled promotion of conditions—to propaganda. When we at bynature.ca ask hard-hitting questions about the China-made products that we carry, we hope that we are learning the truth. One benefit of buying closer to home is the trust we can build between producer and buyer. That trust relationship is interrupted or just broken when we import from factories we have not seen.


Product Focus: Candy

I am concerned that a lot of the countries where cloth diapers are being produced overseas then imported to North America are on the list of known labour abusers—China, Egypt, India, and Pakistan. I haven’t yet been able to trace any of these abuses through the supply chain, though, so I’m going to use a different product as an example of what can happen when we are not vigilant: candy.

This time of year, candy is likely on many parents’ minds. Think about this before you buy candy for Halloween. Over the past decade, the fact of slave labor and child labor in cocoa production in West Africa has been in the news consistently. Growing public awareness has meant pressure on mainstream chocolate producers to use only fair trade chocolate. Knowing that the dark side of cheap chocolate is child labour might make you hesitate to grab bags of miniature chocolate bars at the grocery store for treat-or-treaters.

Can you still buy ethical chocolate? Absolutely. There are quite a few small chocolate brands that use fair trade cocoa. In the mainstream, Cadbury and Nestle each produce one fair trade chocolate bar (for the UK market). Green & Blacks use only fair trade chocolate. Pressure on North American Hershey’s has intensified through sites like Raise the Bar Hershey. Just last week, Whole Foods dropped Hershey’s high-end chocolates because Hershey’s couldn’t assure them that the chocolate was free from slave-labour and child-labour.

The news for mainstream candy is not all bad. The same day their high-end chocolate was dumped by Whole Foods, Hershey’s announced their intention to source 100% certified cocoa by 2020. Their commitment is a step in the right direction. By the time your toddler is cruising the neighborhood alone on Halloween, you can pick up that bag of miniature chocolate bars and know that the cocoa your child will eat was not picked by another child forced into labour.


An Alternative: Fair Trade Candy

We don’t give our children a lot of sweets, but, when we do, we want to feel good about it. bynature.ca carries Glee Gum products, including the original chewing gum, which is Fairtrade certified, and their kits to make your own gum and make your own chocolate. We feel great about Glee Gum as a company. They are based in the U.S., and we love the educational materials they provide. When you buy Glee Gum, you are supporting a company that looks at the overall sustainability of the products.


Go-to Organizations

Many organizations are working internationally to reduce then eradicate labor abuse, to protect the most vulnerable people in our society. Among the organizations working on the larger issue of global labour abuse is the Worker Rights Consortium (worker focused). Global Exchange works on Fair Trade issues (product focused), educating the public to demand fair trade goods, including cocoa.


What You Can Do

Research the products you buy, share what you learn, and choose products wisely. Yes, it does sometimes cost more to buy Made in Canada and Made in USA goods, and, no, that is not always a guarantee of fair labour, but your choices and your voice do make a difference as you spread what you learn. Do a local search on Etsy. Buy at local craft shows and farmers’ markets. Learn the name of the person who made your stuff. Build that trust relationship. If you buy imported products, such as sweets like chocolate and gum, make sure they are fair trade certified.

One aspect of true, long-term sustainability must be a dignity and a living wage at every point along the supply chain. As long as we buy cheap products that externalize the real costs, we have not yet reached true sustainability.


Resources

More in this series

Image © Paul Prescott | Dreamstime.com. Young textile worker in a small factory in Old Delh on February 26, 2008 in Delhi, India. Working age in this factory is from 16 to 71 years old.

Cheap Products – At What Cost?

Cheap products at what cost

We’ve been answering a lot of questions lately about why North American made products are important to us, why we try to avoid products made in China, and why we don’t carry a $5.00 pocket diaper. The full answers aren’t simple because we weigh a lot of issues as we choose products for our store.

Give It to Me Quick

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


High Quality and Good Value

Safe Family Promise

Every product we carry and every company we work with has to meet basic standards. Some meet even higher standards, which we mark with our Safe Family Promise. Meeting those higher standards of quality, ethics, and sustainability can sometimes mean products cost more. Sometimes, not always.

When I hear, “I’m so excited about the deal I got,” I wonder to myself, “At what cost?” Did someone else pay by not being compensated fairly for their labor? Will you pay when you have to buy a new product to replace this one? Will the farmer downstream and that farmer’s customers pay because of environmental violations? Will your baby pay if it turns out this product isn’t safe? What is the real cost of that cheap import? Some of these costs come back around later.

Every family I know works to keep their expenses low. At Eco Baby Steps, we write posts about DIY and saving money while keeping your family healthy and happy. We emphasize not buying all of the stuff of parenting that gets pushed on you but focusing on reusable, high quality products that will last. We are careful about what we buy for ourselves and what we promote to you. We understand the need to save money. We still find the price of buying ethical products worth it.

One of the ways we do our best to ensure that products meet high standards is by buying as close to home as possible where we can see who is making products and how.


China-made Products

China-made products have become a hot issue. We hear stories of violation of intellectual property, of international labor violations, and of low quality. We don’t assume that every product made in China has issues, and China-made is not the only issue that concerns us at all, but it has been talked about quite a bit in the juvenile products industry, so we remain concerned.

bynature.ca does carry a handful of products made in China. This is often driven by consumer demand or a demand for lower pricing. If our customers can show us a better product they would buy instead, we will always consider this.

We look for local first, made in Canada next, and made in USA third as our order of values, when we search for new products. If we are unable to find a North American supplier for a product that is supportive of families, the environment, and a safer alternative than mainstream items, we will look at alternate suppliers.

We ask our suppliers a number of hard-hitting questions, and while we may not always like the answers, it’s important to us that we have these answers for our customers, so they can make the choices they are most comfortable with. When we consider new products that are made in China, sometimes by North-American based brands, these are a few of the questions we ask:

  • Do you own your own facility in China?
  • How much time have you spent in China at this facility, and how many times a year do you return?
  • Are you paying your foreign employees directly, or is the facility responsible for payment/treatment of workers?
  • What is the average pay of your employees working in China?
  • Are there other products being manufactured out of this facility, or only your product? Are the same employees responsible for manufacturing other products, and are they compensated for this fairly?
  • Are your products third-party tested for safety?
  • Are your products free from known toxins, such as BPA, PVC, phthalates, lead and other heavy metals, melamine, chemical flame retardants, parabens and other harsh chemicals?

The safety, quality and ethics behind the products we recommend are very important to our customers and our company, and we hope this is something our manufacturers have considered when developing their products. We prefer to work with manufacturers who have high standards. We may still choose to carry a line that is made overseas, but we hope that by asking the hard-hitting questions, those manufacturers realize these things matter to us.


Made Closer to Home

Would we prefer to carry only products that are made in Canada? Absolutely! Unfortunately, we have yet to find products like stainless steel and glass made in Canada, and the price for organic cotton products made in Canada has skyrocketed. A supplier of our hemp products has recently informed us that they will no longer be manufacturing because the cost is just too high. Some of our favourite North American-made products eventually take production overseas (as is the case with the fall Goodbyn production), and it doesn’t mean we will remove it from our product mix. We will, however, continue to look for and put emphasis on our North American products when we talk to customers in our store, or feature them on our website. (Shout out to Laptop Lunches for keeping production in the USA!)

We consider products on a case-by-case basis to ensure we’re meeting the needs of our customers and providing them with enough options that they can find what they’re looking for.


Know the Issues

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.

Over the next month, we will post about one of these issues each week, giving you a quick run down on the issues, the consequences, who is working on the issue around the world, and where you can go for more information. We hope you will share what you know as well. We make choices for bynature.ca based on your needs.


More Info

Made in Canada means a product was manufactured or processed in Canada.

Product of Canada means a product was manufactured or processed in Canada AND all or virtually all of the ingredients or components are Canadian in origin.

Labelling is similar in the United States.

A recent consumer survey on “Made in USA” found that 83% of shoppers notice a “Made in USA” label and 3 of 4 say they are more likely to buy that product after they notice the label. 76% of those surveyed also noticed “Made in China” labels, but only 57% of them said they were less likely to buy after seeing the label because of safety and quality concerns. We don’t have similar data on consumer attitudes toward “Made in Canada” labelling, but it appears that country of origin does matter to a majority of shoppers.

“2012 Survey Results: Made in the USA Matters to Shoppers,” Perception Research Services, September 12, 2012.

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Cloth Diapers Save You Money

Bummis prefold cloth diaper package

Real Diaper Week
Real Simple. Real Diapers.

You’ve heard that cloth diapers can save you money. How much? We’ve compared some of our most popular diapers to show you how much money you can save with each style.

How many? To make the calculations simple, we’re starting with the assumption that you need at least 4 diaper covers and 18 diapers at any given time. For one-size diapers, that means 18 is all you need; for sized diapers, we multiplied the number of sizes 8-30lbs by 18. You might not want that many diapers. You might wash fewer diapers more often or more diapers less often. The numbers given here are meant to give you round numbers for comparison.

Biggest savings. If you are looking for the lowest cost diapering options, you can use the same sized prefolds (rather than using smaller diapers for smaller babies) then just double them up as your child needs fewer changes in a day. We found that with organic cotton prefolds and the Bummis budget diaper covers, Whisper pants, and you spend an average of less than $11 per month on diapers. Keep in mind that these prefolds are organic. Saving money does not mean compromising on quality and sustainability. There are remarkably inexpensive diapering options available.

Any cloth diaper saves over disposables. The powerful numbers are in the last column, where you can see how much each cloth diapering system saves over disposable diapers. Even the most expensive options we sell, sized fitted diapers with sized wool diaper covers, save you money compared to disposables.

Average cost for one child in disposable diapers over two years calculated at $1,600 by Real Diaper Association. This assumes the child is only in diapers for 24 months, though. Given that disposable diapered babies potty train later, your savings will likely be more. We don’t want to pad the numbers to make cloth diapers look good, though. It isn’t necessary. Cloth diapers win compared to disposable diapers no matter how you make the calculations.

brand style # & cost total average savings
Bummis Whisper Pants Bummis prefolds + Whisper pants prefolds 18 diapers @ $72, 12 covers @ $7/ea, $100 bags & wipes $256 $1344
Bummis organic cotton prefold cloth diaper kit Bummis organic prefold kit prefolds 1 infant kit @ $180 + 4 more covers @ $50, $80 bags & wipes $310 $1290
AMP cloth diaper packages

AMP one-size kit

AI2 / pocket 2 kits @ $140, $100 bags & wipes $380 $1220
Apple Cheeks cloth diaper starter kit Apple Cheeks kit pocket 2 kits @ $160, $100 bags & wipes $420 $1180
AMP one-size diaper kit bamboo AMP bamboo kit AI2 / pocket 2 kits @ $180, $100 bags & wipes $460 $1140
Happy Heinys one-size pocket diapers Happy Heinys one for all one-size pocket 18 diapers @ $23/ea, $100 bags & wipes $514 $1086
Motherease One-size Cloth Diapers Motherease diapers + Air Flow covers one-size fitted 18 diapers @ $13/ea, 16 covers @ $13.50/ea, $100 bags & wipes $550 $1050
Bum Genius AIO diaper bumGenius Elemental one-size AIO 18 diapers @ $28.75/ea, $100 bags & wipes $581 $1019
Fuzzi Bunz Sized Diapers
FuzziBunz perfect sized
pocket 36 diapers @ $20/ea, $100 bags & wipes $820 $780
Thirsties Duo pocket diapers Thirsties Duo
2-size pocket 36 diapers @ $20/ea, $100 bags & wipes $820 $780
Aristocrats Wool Diaper soaker Sugar Peas + Aristocrats fitted & wool soakers 36 diapers @ $20/ea, 12 covers @ $45/ea , $100 bags & wipes $1360 $140
Loveybums Wool Diaper covers Kissaluvs + Loveybums fitted & wool wraps 54 diapers @ $15.50/ea, 16 covers @ $40/ea, $100 bags & wipes $1577 $23

.

Real Diaper Association is a nonprofit charity that trains grassroots cloth diaper educators. They are the organizers of Real Diaper Week and of the Great Cloth Diaper Change this Saturday. To celebrate Real Diaper Week, we are posting about cloth diapers all week. Parents at 262 Great Cloth Diaper Change events around the world will change their babies’ cloth diapers on Saturday at the same time in order to break the world record for the most simultaneous diaper changes. bynature.ca and NaturalNutrition.ca will be co-hosting a fun cloth diaper event in Orillia for up 50 babies and their parents.

Real Diaper Week