Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Bigger Picture: A law of extremes spells out bad news for small-business owners

Seamstress Marion Scott fears she will be mourning the death of her small business come February 10, 2009 -- a day many have dubbed National Bankruptcy Day. But Scott won't be shutting down shop because of a floundering economy or lack of interest in her products.

Scott, a mother who crafts handmade playdresses for little girls out of her Lake Zurich home, will be among many other small crafters and vendors of children's products who will be forced to close their business' doors because they simply cannot afford to comply with the third-party testing mandated by a section of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

The CPSIA, which was enacted Aug. 14, cites new standards for U.S. product safety. The act comes after myriad children's products were recalled during the past year because of high lead levels. Violators of the law may face steep fines and even jail time, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued warnings citing that the act will be strictly enforced.
This law comes at a hard time economically, as the United States officially observed Dec. 1 the one-year mark of a recession.
"This business allows me to buy groceries and Christmas presents for our family," Scott said. "As a very small business owner, I can not afford to comply with the CPSIA’s requirement for individual manufacturers to test each specific fabric. "

Though big businesses will also be affected by the act, the requirement for crafters and vendors to submit their finished products marketed for children 12 and younger for third-party testing of lead and phalates hardest hits small businesses.

Beth Leistensnider, president of CatBird Baby, a small business that sells baby carriers based in Chicago, will be financially hard-pressed to comply with testing requirements cited in the act.

"I believe that we can afford to stay in business, but this does come at a very difficult time for us because of the economy and the stage of growth the company is in at this time," Leistensnider said.

Leistensnider said CatBird Baby, like other many other businesses, wants to comply with the new safety standards because she said there is little more important than ensuring children's safety. However, she said she questions why finished products rather than components need to be tested.

"Submitting finished products could result in testing the same buckle ten times instead of once, which is a completely, unnecessary expense that doesn't increase safety," Leistensnider said. "If certification cannot be based on the testing results of suppliers, testing will be extremely and possibly prohibitively expensive," Leistensnider said. "It would also be redundant because often this testing is done by suppliers. I believe we need a process to make available results official and transparent for all in the supply chain, or else we need streamlined component-based testing requirements at the very least."

Kristen DeRocha, CEO of Dallas-based baby sling manufacturer, Hotslings, said her company can afford to stay in business, but her business will suffer because the new law costs money and manpower. DeRocha said she also is very concerned about mom-and-pop shops that make handmade items like wooden toys and work-at-home moms who make items like playdresses or dolls because these types of businesses spur the economy on local levels and provide extra income for many families.

"It simply will not make any sense [for them] to be in business if they have to test all of their products for something that likely isn't even an issue," she said. " The families of these business owners more than likely have children. More children will be harmed economically by this legislation than will be saved from lead poisoning."

Additionally, DeRocha said she thinks the act is punishing businesses who are not offenders in the first place.

"The companies that created this problem are the big beneficiaries of the legislation because most of their innovative competitors will be gone," DeRocha said. "And now the small mom-owned companies will not be able to stay in business, and the children of those moms will now have unemployed parents and a landfill of unsaleable, very likely and ironically lead-free toys and textile products."

Jan Heirtzler, owner and seamstress of Sleeping Baby Productions baby slings, said her business will be forced to offer fewer fabric choices for slings. Having fewer choices will sting, she said, as her large number of fabric choices makes her business appealing. Heirtzler echoed the same concerns other business owners cited, even though she said she supports higher safety standards.

"There are provisions that are genuinely useful," Heirtzler said of the act. "I think it is important that products that may have lead paint or surface treatments that could include lead be tested and disallowed from the marketplace. However, this act goes far beyond that. It's throwing the baby out with the bathwater... plus the tub, all the tub toys, and the sponge, just in case."

Need to know more?
Visit the CPSC page about CPSIA
Want to voice your opinion?
email your representatives regarding the CPSIA
sign the petition

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