August was a flurry of toy recalls, news reports and opinions on what is and isn’t acceptable in the world of toy manufacturing. Over the past month, with nearly 20 million Chinese-manufactured toys recalled for health and safety reasons, the issue of toy safety has become a lot bigger than simply sifting through the box in search of toys from the recall. In fact, many parents are now wondering if any toy carrying the “Made in China” label is safe.
“So many toys are made in unfair, inhumane situations by kids,” Shay Chan Hodges, a longtime local Democratic Party activist and owner of Maui Child Toys and Books in Makawao, says. “Why would you buy a toy for a kid that’s made by a kid? Plus, we worry about our kids playing with something made with lead paint, but what about the person–maybe even child–who was sitting there for 12 hours painting it in the first place?”
For the past few years, Chan Hodges and her family have made it a point not to buy things made in China. It hasn’t been easy.
“Everything is made in China,” she says. “And it’s hard, because sometimes it’s like why should I spend $20 on something when I can pay $5 for the same thing from China?”
The answer, she says, is that “you can expect to pay more for stuff made here.”
That’s at least partially due to laws and regulations on the manufacturing end, as well as federal government mandates requiring employers to pay their employees minimum wage and provide them health insurance.
“These laws are what makes it possible to live safely,” Chan Hodges says. “They’re not perfect, but they’re here to protect you.”
As a retailer, Chan Hodges says she’s adamant about doing whatever she can to protect Maui’s keiki from hazardous materials in toys, support U.S. manufacturers and oppose those who fail to abide by American quality standards on both labor and safety.
“I know where every toy in my shop is made,” she says. “I know how much the people who make them are paid, and I know how many hours the employees are required to work. If you come in to the store and ask about a product, I can tell you about it confidently.”
But adhering to those policies can make business difficult. Since acquiring the store from its previous owner (Chan Hodges’ mother-in-law owned it for 17 years) she has lost product that sold well because of her convictions.
“Even if something sells well, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “If I can’t get a straight answer from people on the questions that I ask, I know there’s a problem and I just won’t carry it anymore.”
According to Chan Hodges, no consumer is taking a personal risk by standing against bad labor conditions and toys that may contain toxins.
“If you can’t talk to someone and find out where it’s made and by whom, you just don’t know,” she says. “What you can do is simply choose not to support it.”
But just because a toy has a “Made in (insert foreign country)” tag on it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to cost less.
“We used to carry these horses, and they were popular,” she says. “They were expensive, though. I mean, they’re made in China for cheap. Someone is making tons of money off it and it’s not the retailer or the manufacturer.”
Maui Child Toys and Books is located at 1158 Makawao Ave. in Makawao. For more information call 250-6160. MTW