Trade Pacts Have Paved Way for Toxic Toys

Our children are at risk. Some of the Halloween buckets that children put their candy in were found to have levels of lead that massively exceed legal limits. So do the elongated vampire teeth that children put in their mouths. Twenty million toys marketed by Mattel, sold at Toys R Us and Wal-Mart, were recalled this summer for excessive lead and other dangers.

The reasons for this are clear, and are detailed in a new report from the Campaign for America's Future on "Toxic Trade." China now claims to make about 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States. Our imports from China are up nearly 4,000 percent over the last two decades. At the same time, the budget and staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been cut in half over the last 25 years. It now has one full-time employee -- a guy named Bob -- tasked to test the tens of millions of toys imported into the United States.

Lead has been banned in U.S. toys for decades. But China is notorious for not enforcing safety or consumer or environmental standards. Companies such as Wal-Mart force their suppliers to relocate to China and elsewhere to get the cheapest labor and provide the cheapest products. Chinese labor unions, part of the state apparatus, have no way to protest poisonous production processes. The companies now admit that they don't adequately test the products they import. As the threat has gotten bigger, succeeding administrations have decimated regulatory budgets and staffs.

Most of the toys we purchase for our children are not tested at all, no matter how hard Bob works. When the Consumer Union tested toys that had not been recalled, it found that many had excessive levels of lead or other dangers.

This threat to our children is the direct result of conservative policies pursued by both parties. They have passed trade accords such as NAFTA or the WTO -- in which China is now a member -- which protect investors' rights but provide no protection for worker rights or consumer and environmental standards. And at the same time, they've allowed corporate lobbies to slash our regulatory budgets and staffs, while limiting the legal liability of companies for their suppliers.

Many parents are terrified. They want to know what to do. The United Steelworkers has launched a campaign to warn families about toxic toys and offers a test you can do on your own to see if the toys you've purchased are safe (www. But as the Steelworkers union warns, the test is complicated and can produce false results. Clearly the government and the companies should be doing the testing. Our trade accords should mandate consumer and environmental standards. Global companies should be held responsible for their suppliers. Retailers should be liable if they sell toys that violate basic standards.

Yet amazingly, Nancy Nord, the acting head of the Consumer Product Commission, has told Congress she opposes legislation that would give her agency increased authority, resources and staffing. Why? Perhaps because Nord was a U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist before joining the Bush administration. And the Washington Post reports that she's taken junkets paid for by corporate lobbies. Corporate cronyism and corruption is a signature of this administration -- but this time it is putting our children at risk. That's why the Campaign for America's Future has launched a petition to call for Nord to resign.

Americans have a right to assume the toys they buy their children this Christmas won't poison them. This administration should put ideology and corporate cronyism aside and get this done -- or we'll all be setting up laboratories in our basements.

-- Jesse Jackson

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