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UK trade group urges increased enforcement action on counterfeit toys

Products - Toys © European Union 2016

The British Toy and Hobby Association is calling for increased enforcement action to prevent counterfeiting of toys, which could contain toxic chemicals.

Jerry Burnie, BTHA safety expert, said the association estimated between 10% and 12% of toys on the UK market are counterfeit.

He told Chemical Watch: “These counterfeit toys are generally a lot cheaper, because to make something compliant costs a lot of money in assessments, testing and specifications. The cost difference to produce a compliant toy or a non-compliant toy is much bigger than it used to be. The temptation to counterfeit it is a lot greater.”

One of the main issues, he said, is the presence of restricted phthalates in toys.

“If you look on Rapex (EU’s Rapid Alert System for dangerous products) there’s a lot of restricted phthalates. No-one reputable would specify them, yet they’re appearing on the Rapex all the time,” said Mr Burnie. 

The preliminary findings of a project report on REACH enforcement, found that 19.7% of 464 toy products on the European market tested for the phthalates DEHP, DBP and BBP, were non-compliant with an EU restriction on phthalates.

Mr Burnie said that more support for enforcement efforts was needed.

“We feel we have all the legal things in place and adding more regulations doesn’t affect people trying to ignore them anyway. If enforcement had more resource and could enforce more items that would be very helpful,” he said.

The BTHA runs training for trading standards professionals to help them target areas they can enforce cheaply.

‘Piecemeal process’

Michael Warhurst, from the NGO CHEM Trust, said the UK has “a particularly poor process” for checking toys, and other products, for safety and is behind other European countries in its enforcement actions.

“It is entirely dependent on local authorities to do that work. Local authorities don’t have that much money and chemical testing costs and requires expertise. So it’s very piecemeal and not very protective,” he said.

Brexit could make the situation worse, he added. “If the UK does deregulate or is perceived globally to have deregulated or just delays implementation, of say, a REACH restriction, then you’ll get more things sold in the UK that don’t meet those rules.”

Mr Warhurst said the government’s new Office for Product Safety and Standards could potentially provide national coordination of enforcement, “but only if it had staff working on chemicals that could look at the evidence and prioritise testing.”

Funding crisis

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS), which is responsible for enforcement in the UK, said: “Trading Standards have powers to take action where a product is found to be unsafe and we have also set up the Office for Product Safety and Standards to strengthen the UK’s already tough product safety regime, identifying consumer risks and managing responses to large-scale product recalls and repairs.”

They added that the new office “provides a central source of scientific and technical expertise to support other market surveillance authorities, such as local authority trading standards teams, including providing specialist capability needed to test products and assess risks to consumers.”

However, they did not confirm if the office would have staff working specifically on chemical enforcement.

A spokesperson for Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the professional industry body, said that services were in the midst of a funding crisis.

He told Chemical Watch: “Repeated workforce surveys show that per-head spending on trading standards is below £1.99 on average across the UK, and that officer numbers have fallen by over 50%. Many services now have fewer than ten fully trained officers, enforcing over 250 statutory duties from animal health, to product safety, to scams.”

European action 

A European Commission spokesperson told Chemical Watch that toys are the most common products notified in Rapex – accounting for 26% of all notifications last year.

Although EU toy safety requirements are among the strictest in the world, they said, there are “still too many unsafe and non-compliant products sold on the EU market”.

Therefore, on 19 December, the Commission proposed a new legislative measure, the Regulation on Compliance and Enforcement, “to help create a fairer internal market for goods, through fostering more cooperation among national market surveillance authorities.”

This is intended “to strengthen controls by national authorities and customs officers to prevent unsafe products from being sold to European consumers,” they said. 

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