Worker Safety and Toys; An Interview with Carter Keithley, President of the Toy Industry Association

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Safety is a constant concern to all of us who make toys.  For that reason, in light of the recent building collapse in Bangladesh, I thought it
might be a good time to check in on how the toy industry is doing in this regard.
 To find out, I asked Carter Keithley,
President of the Toy Industry Association and a member of the ICTI
(International Council of Toy Industries) board of directors for an interview.  He kindly agreed and here is what I learned:

Richard:

All of us in the toy industry and society at large were shocked
by the building collapse in Bangladesh.  In this case, a building
containing several clothing factories collapsed killing over 1,000
people.  The toy industry had its own problems with safety in the past but
fortunately not even remotely on this scale.  How did you react when you
heard the news?

Carter:

1277869834736_10-7-1A1-3_325437I
was dumbfounded by the Bangladeshi disaster.  
In addition to thehuge number of fatalities,it seems likely that many
more workers were permanently injured. 
The United States learned of the need for effective worker protection
measures more than 100 years ago in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that
resulted in “only” 146 fatalities.  The
scale of the Bangladeshi disaster is beyond comprehension.This has to be a
lesson to the Bangladesh government about the need for worker protections.  I understand that they are trying to
“bootstrap” their nation into 21st century prosperity, but moral
responsibility aside, it would be foolish for them to think that they can
prosper at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of their workers, which are
their nation’s asset.

Richard

The press has been keeping a great deal of pressure on
the clothing industry in reporting how it is reacting to the collapse (Disney
has pulled out of Bangladesh).  How do you feel that toy industry
retailers and producers reacted to the toy industry’s problems and how does it
compare with how clothing retailers and companies are reacting to the
Bangladesh event?

Carter:

The
toy industry did not encounter worker protection problems anywhere near the
scale of the disaster in Bangladesh, but I am proud to say that the global toy
industry’s response when some issues emerged in toy factories is one of our
finest achievements.  When worker
protection issues emerged in our industry, toy brands and retailers alike began
to react with individual programs to try to assure that their companies were
not sourcing from producers that were not treating their workers fairly.  As a result, there was a proliferation of programs,
and if one factory produced product for several customers, it could be
confronted with multiple and conflicting demands.  So the toy industry got together to form the
industry-wide “ICTI CARE Program” under the auspices of the International Council
of Toy Industries (ICTI) to assure ethical treatment of workers in toy
factories.  The toy industry is nowhere
near as vast as the clothing industry, so perhaps that made it a little easier
for us to develop a collective response. 
But the achievement of relatively reliable standards for worker
protection by our small industry is stunning.

Richard:

Can you tell us a little about what the toy industry has
done proactively since experiencing problems with safety?

Carter:

In
response to the reports of worker abuses about 8 years ago, the toy industry
raised more than $5 million to capitalize the development and implementation of
the “ICTI CARE” program, consisting of


concrete measures to assure that workers
in toy factories are protected.  The
program uses trained inspectors to conduct unannounced audits in toy producing
factories, but it also helps factories learn how to conform to acceptable
standards for worker treatment.  The
program is by no means perfect, but it has become the “gold standard” for
industry-driven worker protection programs.

Richard:

Are any toy companies currently producing in Bangladesh
or any other countries with loose safety standards?  Should we be
concerned?

Carter:

I
don’t know of any toy companies producing toys in Bangladesh.  The ICTI CARE Program is, beginning to
provide audit services and has certified a few toy producing factories outside
of China, but none in Bangladesh.

Richard:

Do you see this as a problem in all off-shore production
or is it more limited to places like Bangladesh?

Carter:

I
have had no exposure to working conditions in toy factories outside of China,
but our industry is committed to providing effective monitoring and factory
assistance programs to assure ethical treatment of workers wherever toys are
produced.

Richard:

What is the future for the toy industry and safe working
conditions?

Carter:

I am
a huge supporter of the free-market system and the prosperity that can result
from good business decisions regarding economical sourcing.  If toy production migrates to other producing
nations for economic reasons, our industry has learned well the lessons of the
past decade about our responsibility to monitor and assure conformance both with
toy safety standards and worker protection standards.  As the old saying goes: ”what counts is not
what you EXPECT, but what you INSPECT.”  

Richard:

Do you think that the toy industry has something to teach
other industries about creating safer environments for workers?

Carter:

I
believe it does.  I cannot overstate how
proud I am to be working for an industry that has so responsibly and
successfully addressed worker protection.

 

 

 

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