Toy safety is my priority, as I manufacture and sell baby toys. The EU currently regulates the standards for all baby toys and products. In theory, when we leave the EU, there is the possibility the UK won’t be bound by their rules so there is the possibility that I won’t have to test Little Sport Star toys to the same European standard, which is very high.
However, it is unlikely that companies such as mine will use Brexit as a reason to lower the safety standard of toys. We just want to know what standard we are working to. So, until we are told differently, Little Sport Star will continue to test for the European standards as we want to ensure our toys are safe. We know that parents want only the best for their children and we think that only a foolish toy companies will use Brexit as an opportunity to lower the standards.
In addition to toy safety, I clearly have a commercial interest in Brexit. I am interested to know what standards I need to meet, whether the UK will establish their own set of rules and standards, whether I can continue to export my toys to the other EU countries? Will I be able to sell my baby football gym in France, the current football World Champions or my baby tennis racket to Spain, home of Rafa Nadal?
What are the standards?
There are two main standards that toys have to meet. There is the European safety standard, known as EN71 and another European regulation known as REACH. As a toy manufacturer, I have to ensure that my toys meet both standards.
EN71 sets a safety standard for mechanics and technical parts of toys, tests for flammability, choking hazards, sharp edges etc. There are tests for finger paints and a different set of tests for trampolines, tests for soft toys different tests for electronic toys etc. The rules have evolved, they are complex but they are designed to ensure that the toys our children play with are safe.
There is another standard known as REACH. REACH is an acronym for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. When I send my toys to be tested for compliance with REACH, specialists check the toys for chemical substances and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment. When the European Union introduced REACH in 2006, it was considered one of the strictest testing regimes in the world. As a parent, surely that is a good thing? California also sets very high standards. We test for both standards.
Who tests them?
There are a number of accredited testing agencies that test toys. They are independent and they test the toys in their laboratory. The testing agency will only give their approval if they are satisfied the toys meet the required European standard.
If you are wondering who tests the testing house, there is an accreditation process to ensure that the testing houses all meet the same standards. In other words, the process is open for review and there is little scope for one of the testing companies to offer a lower standard than their rival. If an agency is found to be lowering the standard, they risk losing their accreditation.
How does the UK enforce this?
Most toys are still made in the far east because it is cheaper to do so. Consequently, most toys are imported and the toys will enter the UK through one of our ports or airports. At this point, UK customs checks to see that any toys entering the country meet the required standards. If they don’t meet the minimum standard, customs will impound them. For me, the importer, this is not good news as there is a hefty fee for every night your goods are pounded.
My toys were recently pulled up after a routine check. I discovered that I did not have one of the required certificates so the customs officer refused to let my toys into the country. After a few days, having made phone calls to my counterparts in China, I had the documents that they were looking for and the toys were released. Yes, it was a paperwork exercise and could have been handled more efficiently, but I did not resent the checking process. Safety comes first and the customs officer was doing his job.
How do consumers know they tested?
You can see if a toy has been tested as it will usually have the CE mark. When toys have passed the test, they are entitled to include the CE mark. CE marking is a certification mark that indicates conformity with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area.
In my recent case with HMRC, the toys did not have a CE mark as they were originally manufactured for sale in Toys R Us in the USA. The labelling requirements are different in the US, so we did not apply the CE mark. When Toys R Us went bankrupt, we diverted the toys to the UK but it was too late to put a CE mark on. The toys had only been tested for US standards, so, we had to do additional EN71 and REACH tests. We then spoke to HMRC and they were happy that our toys met the right standard, provided we were transparent with our customers.
Will UK toy companies stop testing for European standards after Brexit?
It is not yet clear whether the UK will be bound by European safety legislation after we leave the European Union. I am already ordering my Christmas stock for 2019, but I do not know what legislation will apply on April Fools Day, nevermind Christmas day 2019.
There are various scenarios which could come into effect.
One situation is the Brexit – no deal. This means we leave the European Union and we are no longer bound by European legislation. Our International trade would be regulated by the World Trade Organisation, but this would not impact domestic trade. The UK would set the rules for the UK.
The UK is considering a British alternative standard to the CE mark. This new standard will likely be the UKCA and will apply to all goods sold in the UK only. The details of the new standard have not been released yet.
An alternative Brexit situation is that we maintain a close relationship with the European Union and continue to respect their safety standards. Norway is not part of the European Union, but it has a trading relationship with the EU, through membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). Norwegian toys are subject to European safety legislation and Norwegian’s can check whether products have the CE mark for assurance that products are safe.
Safety is just one aspect for business to consider after the UK leaves the EU. When business calls for certainty, we just want to know what the rules of the game are. From my perspective, maintaining high standards give me the peace of mind that my toys are safe so that I can sleep at night. Making toys safely is not expensive but the tests are very expensive. I am not averse to making safe toys. I begrudge paying twice, or three times, or four for very similar tests!
My ideal post Brexit scenario in the long term would be a common global standard. At the moment, my toys comply with European, US (including Californian), Australian, and Canadian standards. Very soon, I am going to have to add the UK to this list with the introduction of UKCA. My concern as a small business: I have to pay a fee for each test.
I have an obligation to my customers to make sure that my toys are safe and that I can look a parent in the eye and tell them that my toys are safe. Why would a parent risk anything less than the best for their baby? Toy safety remains my fundamental and most basic promise to my customers and I will continue to implement the EU standards, until the UK has proven their standards are equally as high.
Nick Farnsworth is the owner of Little Sport Star. Dad, entrepreneur, toy inventor, he actually read law at University so he has an understanding of this topic. If you are interested to know more please contact him, alternatively, if you are concerned, you might want to seek an independent legal opinion. The trouble with Brexit is that until it happens, these issues will remain questions and the answers remain a mystery!