Christmas is the busiest time of year for global toy sales, and online shopping has made it easier than ever to buy the perfect present. Consumers can purchase any product they want from anywhere in the world, which is great for gift lists – but there are major safety implications to global sourcing.  

With no international framework in place for toy safety, shoppers could be inadvertently buying non-compliant and even dangerous goods. They may even be doing this knowingly; a recent survey by The Toy Association found that 54% of parents in the USA have purchased counterfeit items for their kids, because they were cheaper or more available. 

To help global consumers shop confidently, toy brands need to understand exactly what safety and quality standards are required of the goods they are producing – in both their manufacturing region and their retail markets. 

Is it safe to buy toys online? 

Generally speaking, ecommerce is a safe and convenient way to order gifts – which is why half of consumers plan to exclusively shop online this Christmas. And digital events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday often make it more cost-effective to shop online than in-store. 

But family members planning to buy toys via the web this festive season need to be diligent about where those goods are manufactured, to ensure their gifts meet local safety guidelines. 

According to Toy Industries of Europe (TIE) research, up to 97% of toys purchased from well-known websites do not conform with EU toy regulations – and 77% fail standard safety tests. Common problems identified in their study were toys with small detachable parts being marketed as suitable for children aged 36 months and under; accessible stuffing material in soft toys; items with sharp points/edges that could puncture a child’s skin; and long cords on electrical toys. 

Even goods that passed safety tests still failed EU toy compliance due to product quality and packaging problems. For example, product information not being translated into an EU language, no CE marking on the item, and a lack of manufacturer name and address. 

And it’s not just online toy sales being affected, either. Retailers need to be cautious about their choice of suppliers, or they could get caught selling counterfeit goods. UK Trading Standards recently seized hundreds of fake and unsafe toys and other items from vendors in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, including dozens of fidget poppers; one of the best-selling toys of 2021. 

Do local toy regulations impact safety standards? 

One of the primary problems with buying toys online is that consumers can easily purchase items made anywhere in the world – and every region has its own set of regulations. As such, products may have been manufactured to meet regional standards, but don’t meet local safety and compliance standards in the buyer’s market. 

Chemical regulation is a prime example of this. In June 2021, The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Chemicals and Health Branch published a report on the regulation of chemicals used in toys across middle and low-income countries. 

Its analysis of eight medium-income countries (Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, The Philippines, Russian Federation, Thailand and Vietnam) found that only 8 in 10 had policies around the use of ortho-phthalates, which are used for the manufacturing of flexible plastics like vinyl and PVC and can affect children’s neurological development. In several low income territories, the UNEP could not find evidence of any formal chemicals legislation. 

The global export of toys from many of these regions and other countries with ambiguous regulatory frameworks have resulted in some serious safety issues. Over 13,000 children’s toy shaving kits manufactured in China were recalled in the USA in 2020/21 because they contained high levels of phthalates, which can be toxic if ingested by children. Additionally, foreign import testing in Australia found traces of asbestos in remote controlled cars; a substance that has been banned in the country since 2003.  

How can toy brands help consumers shop safer? 

While consumers can play an active role in checking where and how goods are manufactured, the responsibility for ensuring items are produced safely and compliantly ultimately falls to toy brands. 

In order to maximise margins, many toy companies choose to outsource manufacturing overseas. But as we’ve seen with the chemicals example, this can lead to discrepancies in which products are compliant in the market they’re created, but not in the market they are sold. 

Even in the most stringently regulated regions, toy legislation can vary. For example, toys for children aged 0-18 months weighing less than 4.5kg must be dropped from a height of 0.85m five times to meet EU safety regulations. In the USA and Canada, however, the drop height is 1.37m – but this guideline only covers toys weighing 1.4kg or less. 

Legislative differences also affect product packaging and labelling. Only toys sold in the EU have to contain the minimum and maximum age of the user, for instance, and describe the hazard if an item isn’t suitable for children under a certain age. In the US, a hazard warning label must be used if a toy or game intended for children 3-6 years old contains small parts, and cautionary labels must be used for products containing small balls, marbles and balloons. 

The EU also requires toys to bear traceability markings and ensure all product information is printed in the language of the destination country. 

Creating confidence everywhere in the world 

Understanding international toy compliance not only keeps consumers safe and protects brands from reputation-damaging safety incidents; it allows firms to develop, test and package children’s goods in a way that makes them saleable in multiple markets.

Working with compliance experts at product development stage will enable toy companies to build closer, more transparent relationships with manufacturers and material suppliers, to reduce the likelihood of product recalls and expensive reworks. And regulatory resources can also keep pace with the latest safety updates, to ensure existing toys don’t fall out of compliance. 

Most importantly, prioritising compliance ensures the quality and consistency of toy production and packaging, to help brands nurture consumer confidence and loyalty as their reach expands. So during a busy period like Christmas, consumers know exactly who to turn to for a toy they can trust. 

Hooley Brown specialises in international product legislation, including compliant packaging localisation. Get in touch to find out more about our services.

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