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 in Orillia, Ontario.

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. 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 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.

More in this series