CPSIA: Splintering the cause serves no one

First an update. The Rush hearing (chaired by Bobby Rush, D-IL) we’d been pinning our hopes on to make our case before Congress next Wednesday, has been canceled. Rick Woldenberg (the guy in the youtube videos) says:

I admire the work you are doing, and hope you will stick to it. I was due to testify at the Rush hearings next Wednesday but they were canceled which is an opportunity missed. I think our message is being heard, but there is no conviction to do anything about it -yet. I have some thoughts on further correspondence to move the ball down field, but frankly, time is working against us now. So this is a great time to step up the pressure. Your contacts should keep the pressure on Congress, especially members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I will send you many emails with lots of relevant info. I will also add you to my mailing list, so you can see what I am up to.

The wiki entry for the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce lists all the members of the committee and subcommittees with links to their respective pages. The less useful official US government site is here. Feel free to contact members of the committee, more so if they represent your district.

Splintering the cause

Understandably, many people have been asking here and on various forums whether their product is exempt. Some post claims they are not (using unsubstantiated sources) which is a disservice feeding false hopes. Among them, I’ve yet to see a child related product that really is exempt. The climate was no different at the meeting I attended in Washington this week. It’s easy to understand why. We’re all drowning men, clutching at any driftwood that’ll save us. But as one person suggested, this is the wrong strategy.

Everybody is scrambling to find wiggle room using narrow definitions in an attempt to exclude themselves from the law, desperate to save their own skins. It’s understandable, survival and all. But strategically, that is the wrong thing to do.  All of us are better served by coming together to define the rules BROADLY to encompass everyone for two reasons.

  1. The CPSC doesn’t have the infrastructure to process and rule on the flood of exemption requests. They don’t have the man power to deal with it so if any manage to squeak through, these businesses will be unfairly advantaged over others who may have similar legitimate claims.
  2. More of us lose through splintering because assuming the CPSC can come up with a bunch of narrow definitions; it’s not likely to solve but one of a few of our problems; most people will still be hanging out to dry. More stand to lose with narrow definitions than broad ones.

Rather, we are better served by centralizing focus on broad exemptions, not narrow ones. Every man for himself is the wrong strategy to employ when everyone is affected. At this rate, we’re our own worst enemies (divided we fall) because splitting into narrow definitions splinters the whole cause. Let’s say you’re lucky enough to get your exemption that magically covers the gamut of your product line (as if), does that save your colleagues? How much pleasure can you take in surviving when you’re the only one left standing? On Fashion-Incubator, probably less than 30% of the designers make kids stuff but as far as I can tell, they’re all pulling together for their colleagues who are affected.

In summary, I do not want to read any more comments asking if one’s products made from 100% organic fabric (woven by leprechauns) and made via fair-trade (sewn by well paid fairies) using carbon neutral sustainable power (unicorns pulling a water wheel) and are certified to be the singular example of 100% purity by G-d, The Trinity, Mohammad, and Gaia combined [-and you are a nice good person and a widow, single mom, single dad, working family, reformed attorney or recovering engineer (pick one)] are exempt because if you have to ask, they most likely are not. The strategy should be broad enough to cover your neighbor and even the plant down the street, not just yourself. It’s time to pull together. As Rick Woldenberg says, it’s time to ply the pressure on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

I’ll be posting material Rick sent me over on National Bankruptcy Day later with lots of juicy .gov email addresses to harvest!

Related in the forum:
The War Room: CPSIA & Consumer Safety. This is a very active section with nearly 60 different threads and over 1,000 postings. Open to the public.

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  1. Teresia says:

    This is truly devastating for me and my business. I am barely starting and have a lot invested in what I do. I guess I can sell until 2/10/2009? The economy is killing me not alone this now. I have written many letters. I have read everything and yes, I find the people with their organic cotton, chemical free quite funny. Laws are written in a general manner, that is the way it is. I guess I am a very pragmatic thinker. I never bought my kids those toys that started all of this!

    I truly appreciate what you are doing Kathleen. Keep up the good work and I will continue to write and hopefully we will have answers before it is too late.

  2. I just emailed all of my representatives in congress regarding this issue. I am going to attempt to contact each and every congressman on that committee that I can, and whenever possible try to spread the word.

    I can appreciate the thoughts behind the legislation, but certainly not the unintended consequences. Thanks so much Kathleen for all you are doing.


  3. Pam says:

    THANK YOU for all you are doing! Please include stay at home bow makers if anyone goes to confront and represent us small business people :)

  4. dan marshall says:

    When we first started learning about this, we thought the problem with the CPSIA did have more to do with small vs. big and US vs. China, etc. In learning about the needs of the diverse vendors that support our toy and baby store, though, we’ve learned that it really has more to do with how many and how complex your product lines are. The longer your lines, the more you suffer under CPSIA, no matter how big you are or where your product is made.

    That said, I think there is a need for multiple constituencies to speak with multiple voices. Even though we’re small, our livelihoods are at stake if we choose to ignore this law.

    I think the one solution to this whole problem would be to throw out the idea of third party testing and replace it with product registration and random audits backed by meaningful and scaled penalties such as, say, $10 per faulty unit sold. I think that small change would save the day for everyone big and small.

    The goal of our group, the Handmade Toy Alliance, is to give voice to the concerns of our small businesses, which seem to have been left out of consideration when the CPSIA was drafted. Sure, some of us employ Leprechauns, but I think we are united in saying that this law does little to protect children and a lot of damage to good toymakers. It is up to the folks in Congress to hear our voice, add it to what all the big companies are saying, and figure out something that works.

    Dan, Peapods Natural Toys

  5. Deb Stahl says:

    Thank you again for your information and your wise words. I’ve been emailing one of my suppliers (where I get a lot of my dyes and some of my garments), my Members of Congress, the CPSC, and I’m starting on local news outlets as of today. I return to this site time and again for reference, and links from this site have been popping up all over the Etsy forums as well as we struggle to get inromed, stay informed, and make sense of it all – and then make our voices heard.

    Thanks again!
    Deb Stahl

  6. Audra says:

    I am a small time bow/clippie maker.

    I have a question.. How does the Government go about shutting down all of etsy??? I assume al the folks on etsy are small business that couldnt afford to test each and every creation. :( this makes me sad.

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