CPSIA in Three Acts: Shame, Honesty and Crime
This post was reprinted with permission of Kathleen of Fashion Incubator.
Act One: Shame
A lot of people have already gone out of business due to CPSIA but they’re ashamed to admit it. They blame themselves because they know there was some slop in their operations and if they’d had it together, this wouldn’t have happened to them. In some ways, they were the lucky ones -if it weren’t for the self blaming and loss of self respect- because they avoided the death by paper cuts of the August tracking and labeling requirements. Maybe you could have done something to avoid it but I don’t see how. I really don’t. Failing to prevent an unforeseen event doesn’t make you any less a victim so it serves no purpose to blame yourselves. That’s why so many have gone out of business without a word or telling any but a few close friends. It’s why it’s so hard to find anyone to interview these days. If I held any sway at all, I’d ask you to put up a banner on your websites explaining that CPSIA is the reason you suspended sales. This is nothing to be ashamed of. The people who should be ashamed, the ones you’re letting off the hook, are the very people who did this to you, those who claim to help victims, the special interest groups. They don’t help victims, they are victimizers, abusers of the public trust. Slowly I think the word is getting out about them. You must hold them accountable.
Act Two: Honesty
This is what no one wants to say publicly. That in some ways (not that one would truly wish this) it would have been better if those affected by CPSIA had gone broke all at once in one fell swoop. It would have been a big story, the drama would have ensured prompt legislative action. Rampant business failures would have been more accurate outcome of what the law will end up doing anyway. But no, we got a stay on testing that had two primary effects. The first was, the stay was very effective at dissolving activism in opposition to CPSIA overnight. Those that held out were just so darn grateful for a year long testing reprieve they went back to their cubbies to carry on with what they were doing. Most are confident “somebody” is going to fix this law so by the time the stay expires in ten months, they think they will have nothing to worry about. The second effect of the stay removed a sense of urgency to consider the broader gamut of costs. Nobody is talking about the pending tracking and labeling requirements coming up in August. T&L isn’t well understood; if anything, it’s perceived as a paperwork problem that enterprises will unhappily but readily absorb. Most consider it an annoyance but not particularly burdensome. Unfortunately, T&L is insidious, that is what will kill most of the businesses left standing. The problem of tracking and labeling will pick people off, in ones and twos with no readily discernible pattern. There won’t be any dramatic news stories of death by paper cuts but that’s exactly what will happen. Assuming you don’t also go to prison that is or are levied $100,000 fines because you filled the form out improperly.
Act Three: Crime
Scene One: It is inevitable that the CPSIA law will create an endless cycle of enforcement, justification and funding. Because it’s so easy to get into the business, so easy to fail to comply, so easy to get caught and fined, the special interest groups who lobbied for this law will emphatically thump their chests and proclaim loudly “look at all these offenders”, good thing we have this law! Look at all the people we caught”. Because of the sheer complexity of labeling and tracking, violations are inevitable. Violations will have nothing to do with safety. Unfortunately, the law itself will become a self perpetuating machine of justifications for its need and continuance. The public will assume a lot of unsafe products have been prevented from entering the market when all they’ve really done is create a shopping list for any number of infractions that have nothing to do with safety at all. You can go to jail for omitting a period or putting one in the wrong place. Once they start catching “criminals”, they can get more money for enforcement meaning they’ll catch even more of you. Congress has said openly that the fines are intended to be a source of revenue. A sort of tax paid by the “guilty”.
Scene Two: CPSIA will not prevent bad actors from entering the market place. Lead and safety regulations have been on the books since the 70′s; enforcement which Congress has continually failed to fund, is the problem. Rather, the bad actors will gravitate to the poorly lit alleys of the consumer stream, preying on poor and indigent consumers who won’t have recourse to pay the higher cost of consumer goods that is inevitable under CPSIA. But there’s more, the gestation of a black market economy. If these criminals were merely doting grandmothers and home workers with no other income opportunities it wouldn’t be so bad but it will be bad. Sarah explains it best:
By increasing the height of the hurdles one has to jump to sell a legitimate product, Congress is encouraging more and more of them not to bother, and the few that are left have every reason to become less ethical. One of the reasons we have so many home crafters selling children’s products in the first place is that it’s a sort of “gray market”– a semi-regulated market– where it’s easy to start a business. Putting more pressure on a market like that will turn it into a black market in a heartbeat.
At first, little would change. But after a while, we’d start to get reports of disreputable people entering the market. Perhaps someone would import toys illegally that were hazardous, or someone might use imported fabric that was coated with a toxic chemical to make clothes. The government would find it difficult to crack down on them because they don’t have business licenses, merchant accounts, etc. Shut them down? Confiscate their merchandise? Next week they’ll be in business on a different street selling something else. Government would respond with warnings about buying that cheap black-market trash, but warnings never extend anyone’s budget enough to make them able to buy more expensive, regulated goods. Honest men and women would cut corners to compete with them. And thus would all consumer regulation on children’s products come to naught.
Tomorrow we’re having a rally in Washington. People from all over the country have converged to protest the canceled Congressional hearings. We have been shut out of the political process. The stay is nothing but a delay with the effect of silencing you. Nothing has changed. If you do not make your voices heard, you won’t be in business much longer. Or maybe you will be but I doubt it will be legally.
What you can do:
- If you’re close, attend the event in Washington DC.
- Attend the protest live over the internet tomorrow between 10-12 AM EST via the Amend CPSIA website. Sign up in advance to get your login credentials.
- Provide financial support. Rick Woldenberg is paying for the lobbying effort out of his personal funds. I have donated $2,000 on your behalf ($1,000 of which was donated by The Good Mama) but any assistance you can provide is sincerely appreciated. Send it to Rick via the paypal account he set up for donations.