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Senator Pryor Helps Out Big Toy

Updated: Apr 13

Big businesses – or at least big toy makers – don’t have a better friend in the Senate than Mark Pryor. That may seem strange. After all, didn’t the federal law he sponsored, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), place strict new regulations on toy makers? Indeed it did. But big toymakers had no problem complying with the Byzantine rules spawned by CPSIA. It’s the small toy companies, especially makers of handmade toys, who were and are hurt by this legislation. At his blog, Overlawyered, Walter Olson has done some excellent work compiling their stories. Here are a few:

  1. A Hawaii doll shop owner made handmade dolls to pay for her daughter’s cancer treatment. When CPSIA’s testing requirements made her business unaffordable, she closed her shop.

  2. A Minnesota toy store shut down because CPSIA’s testing requirements made it impossible to import specialty toys from Europe.

  3. Craftsman John Greco, creator of a variety of handmade wooden products, stopped making children’s products in response to CPSIA’s testing requirements.

There are many other small toy businesses that spent long hours and thousands of dollars in attempts to comply with the variety of regulations they must now obey. And why is all this hardship necessary? Marking the fifth anniversary of CPSIA, Senator Pryor claims that because of the law “we’ve cut fatalities in half.” Presumably, he means that toy-related deaths have been reduced by 50%. In this, the statistics seem to bear him out. In 2008, there were 25 toy-related deaths. In 2012, the last year for which we have relatively complete data, there were 11. (Well, maybe there were only 11. This report of only 11 deaths is likely to be revised upwards. In the 2011 report on child-related injuries and deaths, for instance, the CPSC reported that 13 children died. In the 2012 report, that was revised upwards to 17 deaths. It may take another year until we know exactly how many children died in 2012 from toy-related causes.) From 25 deaths to 11 deaths: that’s a big improvement because of CPSIA, right? Maybe, but probably not. The trend in toy-related deaths has been trending downward since at least 2006. In 2006, there were 28 deaths. That fell to 24 in 2007, rose slightly to 25 in 2008, fell again to 17 in 2009, rose to 19 in 2010, and then dropped again to 17 in 2011. Because the regulations governing safety testing for toys did not go into effect until 2011, it is difficult to see how CPSIA had much (if anything) to do with the overall positive trend. Furthermore, the nature of many of the toy-related deaths makes it highly unlikely that the CPSIA regulations would have prevented them. Of the 2008 deaths, 6 children were hit by cars while riding toys or chasing toys, another 5 drowned while riding or chasing toys, and 2 more drowned in bathtubs because toys blocked the drains. Such deaths are awful, but nothing in CPSIA would have stopped them. A look at the toy-related injury rate also undercuts arguments for CPSIA’s effectiveness. While marking the fifth anniversary of the law, Sen. Pryor argued that before CPSIA went into effect, “more than 230,000 children nationwide were suffering from toy-related injuries.” That’s true. But he failed to mention that in 2012, 265,000 children were treated for toy-related injuries. That’s an increase of 30,000. How did CPSIA save us from “dangerous” toys? The evidence indicates that it didn’t. What it did was burden handmade toymakers and sellers around the country, causing some of them to close their businesses. Big toymakers are doing just fine under this law, however. Walter Olson explains:

By a unanimous vote, the [Consumer Product Safety Commission] recently confirmed that Mattel, the giant toymaker whose many recalls helped touch off the lead-in-toys panic in the first place, has qualified for an exemption from third-party (outside lab) testing of its products under CPSIA, and can instead test in its own in-house labs. Of course, most of Mattel’s competitors are less fortunate and do not operate on a scale that will make such an exemption feasible. The exemption for “firewalled” in-house labs, deemed by one critic a “hall pass,” was something Mattel obtained through intense lobbying back when the law was under consideration. Like the other giant in the business, Hasbro, Mattel actively lobbied for CPSIA’s passage, and even as the law has brought undreamt-of woe to thousands of smaller producers of kids’ products, the two big companies seem to be doing rather well under it.

That’s the legacy of Sen. Mark Pryor’s CPSIA: destroying handcrafted toys, boosting the fortunes of big toy giants, creating special privileges for special interests, and accomplishing little or nothing in terms of improving toy safety. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Pryor’s passage of CPSIA created an appearance of kindness and compassion – but a reality of unemployment, counterproductive regulation, and business destruction.

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