CHOICE's toy industry survey

Our survey that safety is only part of the complex issues we face when buying toys for our children.
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  • Updated:6 Jun 2008

05.Buying a safe and ethical toy

CHOICE verdict

Ensuring the safety of toys — and the rights of the workers who make them — is a complex task that requires the commitment of toy companies, governments and consumers.

On safety, CHOICE thinks we need a national product safety system and a general safety provision in law that clearly imposes pre-market responsibility on producers and importers. The huge recalls last year showed that big blunders with disastrous consequences can slip through, and highlighted the shortcomings of our current product safety system. Companies must ensure their toys meet all relevant safety standards, which may require an upgrade of quality-testing procedures or a rethink of a design. And if problems do arise, they must act promptly (with a voluntary recall, for example).

On responsible supply chain management, companies must be proactive and accountable. They need to understand and map all parties involved in the production of their toys and of the conditions in the country of manufacture and on the factory floor. A comprehensive code of conduct, compliance with national laws and international standards, an independent auditing system, a well informed workforce and transparency in their dealings with the public will all go a long way towards achieving these aims.

As consumers, we need to be aware of the risks that toys can present to our children (see You can buy a safe toy, below). For many consumers it’s also important to act to promote sustainable production in countries we import from, including effective environmental laws, fair wages and better working conditions. We can contribute to organisations such as Amnesty International, Brotherhood of St Laurence or Oxfam, which campaign to improve human rights and working conditions.

Buying Fairtrade products is an approach that works for products like coffee and chocolate --- see our report for more on this. For toys (and clothing and electrical goods) complex supply chains can make this harder, but we can still have an impact through our purchasing decisions and by letting the major-brand companies know directly what we think.

Lastly, we can pressure our own government for action both on standards for toy safety and overseas labour conditions.

How to buy an ethical toy

Neither current codes nor certification of compliance is good enough for you to be certain you’re buying an ethical toy, but these tips will increase your chances.

  • Avoid toys that don’t disclose the name and contact details of the importer and/or manufacturer.
  • Does the brand-name company or the importer have ethical sourcing principles in place? Check its website or ask — the more persistent the inquiries, the more likely they are to listen.
  • Prefer toys manufactured by companies that have a robust code of conduct or that are committed to the ICTI Care Process.
  • Avoid anonymous toys at ridiculously low prices — they’re more likely to be unsafe as well as sourced from the less ethical end of the market.

You can buy a safe toy

All toys for children under three must meet the mandatory standard AS/NZS ISO 8124.1:2002. They mustn’t contain any small parts that are a choking hazard, or produce any when subjected to various tests designed to simulate normal use and abuse (such as dropping, pressing or pulling).

When buying a toy, consider:

  • The age of the child, and how they’ll use the toy.
  • The size of the toy — if it fits into a 35 mm camera film canister, it’s too small for a young child.
  • The design and shape — there should be no small parts that could come off, no sharp edges, points or pinching hazards.
  • Is it so loud it could damage hearing?

Our report on toys has more information, or go to the ACCC website and type ‘safe toys for kids’ in the search box for a comprehensive guide.


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