When you walk into a café or restaurant you expect some very basic hygiene and safety standards. There are a host of different rules that people have to follow to ensure that you can trust your food to be safe to eat.
Some of this comes from common sense, and some from medical and/or health research. A degree of legislation also comes as the result of lawsuits.
Often, seemingly frivolous lawsuits give people justification to disregard these rules. A common example of a seemingly frivolous lawsuit is the McDonald's coffee lady. She claimed that McDonald's coffee was too hot and received nearly $3 million in damages.
This lawsuit even had a lasting impact. McDonald's since changed company policies on the heat of drinks served to customers.
At the time people thought it was ridiculous that she got so much. After all, many of us have spilt hot coffee and we don't get $3 million for it!
However, the lady in question was seventy-nine years old. The coffee was so hot that it caused third-degree burns. She had to get skin grafts.
In fact, a lot of the money went on medical bills. The remaining money was compensation to cover her long recovery afterwards. Here's a Wall Street Journal article about the case.
Some lawsuits may seem frivolous. Sometimes safety rules might appear pointless too. However, there's a huge process in the background with the sole purpose of keeping the public safe.
This process is also particularly strong when we're looking at the safety of children.
As a bricks and mortar toy retailer, we come under legislation on toy safety. We can suffer hefty fines etc. if we aren't compliant.
One rule for one
It probably goes without saying but even if there weren't these laws we'd still ensure that products sold in our shop were safe. However, the safety standards help us make sure of this.
All our suppliers, importers, and manufacturers follow similar standards as well. It might not be perfect, but at least we know we've done what we can at each stage to ensure the safety of our toys.
The current laws don't apply in the same way to online retailers. Companies like Amazon aren't traditional retailers. In many purchases on Amazon you're buying from a third-party seller. They don't have to follow the rules we do. They also don't count as suppliers and they aren't even importers in the traditional sense.
Because of this, none of the rules discussed above apply in the same way. Amazon's business model allows toys and products to be sold by third-party sellers. These companies are often outwith the jurisdiction of the UK's child safety legislation.
They and their third party sellers don't fit into any of the categories for legislation. As a result, they don't have to follow any rules.
That's not to say that they couldn't choose to enforce some level of quality control. However, they don't appear to have done that.
A Nasty Surprise
Hundreds of toys were randomly selected and purchased from various online retailers (not just Amazon). They then employed an independent lab to conduct safety checks on those toys. The results were...not great.
Of the 134 toys purchased on Amazon 55% were found to be 'non-compliant'. Non-compliance can mean things like mislabelling or lacking clear traceability.
For example a toy could look like a baby toy but lack clear evidence that it has been tested as baby safe. Alternatively, you might not be able to find out the location or name of the factory that made something.
These are bad enough but mislabelling doesn't mean that the products are in-themselves harmful; they simply lack the labels that would tell you whether they're safe or not.
The troublesome bit was that the independent lab also found that 27% of the toys tested were actually 'unsafe'. These toys showed risks like strangulation, chemical exposure, access to button cell batteries (which can cause serious injury if swallowed), along with many other hazards.
That turns into a little over a one in four chance of something potentially dangerous ending up in the hands of a child. All because there is no restriction on what can be marketed as a 'toy' by many online retailers.
Who made it?
Even if we were simply looking at labelling, that in itself could still be a serious issue.
Labelling was a problem in more than half of the toys checked. They either could not clearly know what was inside a toy, where it came from, or they couldn't see who could play with it safely.
These are vital bits of information when choosing what to give to a child but they are also necessary should the worst happen and medical information is needed.
If you don't know the chemicals/metal etc. in a product and you have no way of finding that out then there's no way of knowing whether a child is having a reaction to something in their toy.
If other types of situation were to occur and legal proceedings were to be necessary. Who do you charge with negligence if you can't see who made it?
Staying on top of things
Brick and mortar toy shops (as well as any other retailers with a physical presence) have to follow safety rules. It keeps kids safe and it also makes sure that a certain level of quality is achieved.
It also makes sure that pocket money doesn't go to waste on something sub-standard. This behaviour has been the norm for toy retailers etc. for generations now.
We always knew that online retailers played by their own set of rules. However, the findings in the BTHA's study came as a genuine shock to us.
We expected some quality control issues, maybe instructions not in English, but we never suspected that potentially hazardous 'toys' were circulating in the UK.
It's a little shocking to think that British shoppers are parting with money for these items with no recourse should something awful occur.
How To Make A Change
There's currently a petition to have safety laws apply just as strongly to online retailers.
If this information has been as big a shock for you as well please take a few seconds to click here and pop over and sign the petition.
Sorry for the slightly darker post this time, we'll get back to normal Toy Talk next time. This just seemed too important not to mention.
All the best, The Fun Junction Team
In the Toy Industry Yourself?
For those in the Toy Retail sector pop over to Toy News for Tessa Clayton's article on the BTHA's findings.