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.
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.
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?
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.
- Children’s Product Safety, Health Canada
- U.S. CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
- Global Product Recall Database, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developement)
More in this series
- “Cheap Products at What Cost?”
- “Imports at What Cost? Labour”
- “Imports at What Cost? Quality”
- “Imports at What Cost? Environment”
- “Imports at What Cost? Sustainability”
- “15 North American Made Gift Ideas”