An Overview of Fair Trade Toys

Why and How to Purchase Ethical Toys

It can be a little unnerving to think about the possibility that your baby’s toy comes at the cost of another child’s innocence. Thankfully, with fair trade toys and ethical toys now much more readily available, you don’t have to support an unfair toy industry the next time you want to buy a treat for your child. But before we get to the good news, take a look at what’s wrong with the “free” trade toy industry.


Why you should choose fair trade toys

According to Green America, more than 75% of all toys sold in the US annually originate in China, yet this country, as well as many others around the world, perpetuate miserable working conditions for their employees, including children. In the Nightmare on Sesame Street report put out by the National Labor Committee in the United States, researchers uncovered the following harsh working conditions at the Kai Da Toy which supplies “Ernie” dolls for Sesame Street:[1]

  • Children are trafficked to companies as slave labor to work in toy assembly plants.
  • Shifts are typically 13 to 15 hours long, seven days a week with mandatory 19 and 23.5 hour shifts just before shipments go out to US and Europe.
  • Many people earn just 43 cents per hour and are regularly cheated out of their hard-earned income.
  • Workers are hired as temporary employees, denied of work injury and health insurance.
  • Workers are forced to work incredibly fast with chemicals and toxins that cause many health conditions, short- and long-term.

Low-cost toys take jobs offshore

Likewise, supporting the cheap toy industry means that more jobs are shipped offshore as demand for lower prices increases. Since the introduction of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements in the 1970s, employment in the toy, game, and doll industry in the US has plummeted by more than 500%.[2]

Inexpensive toys are harming our health

The dangers of the cheap toy industry don’t just impact workers overseas or jobs abroad, they also impact the health of our families. That’s because toys made with low-cost materials are often of inferior quality, laced with chemicals and ingredients that are toxic to human and environmental health. Here are the biggies to keep your eye on:

  • PVC and phthalates: Many baby toys are now made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC, which is a flexible plastic) and phthalates (added to PVC to make it more flexible), both of which have been linked to health concerns such as liver and kidney damage, developmental delays, and more.[3]
  • Lead: Toys numbering in the millions have been recalled in recent years because of lead contamination.[4] With much less stringent laws for safety, manufacturing companies often cut corners by using materials that we would deem unsafe. Lead can cause disruption of a child’s growth, ability to learn, and behavior.[5]
  • Toxic paints and glues: Many toys are made with paints, glues, and other materials that will off-gas into your home, polluting your indoor air. It is impossible to know what paints and glues are used on a toy unless they make specific claims about the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).


How to find fair trade, ethical toys

Selecting toys for your little ones that are not only fair trade but also safer for them to play with can be tricky. But there are now numerous resources available for finding reputable companies that produce products with the best interest of humans (both at home and abroad) as well as the environment in mind. Here are some great resources to finding fair trade and ethical toys:



1 Kernaghan, C. (2008, July 2). Nightmare on Sesame Street. Retrieved April 25, 2010, from The National Labor Committee:

2 Santa’s Sweatshop:"Made in D.C." with Bad Trade Policy. (2007, Decembe 17). Retrieved April 24, 2010, from Public Citizen:

3 The Best Toys for Your Tots . (2004, November). Retrieved April 24, 2010, from Green America:

4 The Toxic Trade Crisis. (2008, Spring). Retrieved April 24, 2010, from Stop Toxic Imports:

5 Lead in Children's Toys: Questions and Answers for Parents. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2010, from New York State Department of Health:

Stay Connected.
You've been added to our mailing list.
Thank you for signing up!
Like ecolife on Facebook & Google, and join us in the Green movement!