Note: This post features the words of opinions of Kristi Hayes-Devlin, owner of Wrapsody/Gypsy Mama, LLC, and is in no way sponsored by or endorsed by the BCIA or BWI or any other group or person mentioned in the article.
Wow! The internet’s been blowing up this last week with comments from sling and wrap makers as well as consumers for whom the public comment period (intended only for those intimately familiar with and well versed in the proposed standards) on the impending sling regulations has left them feeling blindsided. I’m surprised, because I’ve been writing about this and talking about this for 7 years now — but these days, if it doesn’t come through Facebook via Buzzfeed in the form of entertaining .gifs, it can be hard to know where to look for news when you don’t realize the news exists to be looked for. People are wishing for a guide to CPSIA and sling regulations. In response to some serious anger and confusion I’ve seen, I created a video last Friday, which you can watch on YouTube.
Others don’t have time to watch the video or still feel confused after watching it — in particular, people feel confused about the role of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA), the trade organization I founded in 2010 in response to the law in question. Some people seem to truly believe that BCIA is in some way responsible for the law, the standards, or the regulations rather than just a group of business owners trying to navigate the complex regulatory world of infant products.
So: If you feel confused or just want to get some clarification or learn more, I’ve put together some handy flow charts for you!
Guide to CPSIA
As you can see in the chart above, CPSIA is the name of legislation (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) that was passed by Congress in 2008. The law was passed almost unanimously in the wake of a series of recalls for elevated lead in toys as well as children who were poisoned by Aquadots after one ingredient substituted for another essentially turned the product into a date-rape drug. The CPSIA law continues to endure heavy criticism for a variety of reasons, which you can read about via internet search if you’re interested. Nancy Nord, a former commissioner at CPSC, has published extensive articles discussing the unintended consquences of this well-intended but sweeping law, as has Matt Howsare, Inez Tenenbaum’s former Chief of Staff, in his blog Consumer Product Matters. The Handmade Toy Alliance, Etsy, BCIA, JPMA, and many more folks have published commentaries, articles, blogs. Several national magazines have published information on the problems and shortfalls of CPSIA.
But I digress. CPSIA was passed in 2008 by Congress, and there were many steps legislated as part of its implementation. Part of what it did was to notice weird gaps in product safety — for instance, there were no standards for cosleepers. Most cosleeper companies looked to the crib standard for guidance, but there was no law preventing cosleeper manufacturers from making products that were suffocation or entrapment hazards. They also realized many other product categories, such as baby carriers and baby bathtubs, didn’t have laws. There were voluntary standards from ASTM that companies could use for compliance, and third-party certification processes like “JPMA certification,” but there was no law requiring these products to be made safely.
CPSIA mandated that the CPSC, the regulatory agency responsible for “protecting the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products,” implement and enforce third-party testing requirements and finalize mandatory standards for all durable nursery products. There was much debate about whether infant slings and soft carriers were durable nursery products, but the committee weighed practices such as “legacy wraps” and reselling of slings and carriers and determined that they should fall under “durable nursery products” because they often exist in the consumer stream beyond 5 years. (Side note: I had two Maya Wrap slings in constant, near-daily and heavy use for 4.5 years before the one I preferred wore out. One would likely have worn out after 3 years.)
The CPSC commissioners are appointed by elected officials, and then there is additionally a tremendous support staff comprised of ordinary government employees. The CPSC, like all government agencies, operates within a budget, and that budget is authorized by Congress as part of the national US budget. The CPSC commissioners liase with a congressional oversight committee in order to make budget requests, clarify laws, and a variety of other things. CPSC is responsible for interpreting CPSIA, and if they make an error, the congressional oversight committee is supposed to work with the commissioners to keep everyone on the same page.
How does the CPSC decide what the mandatory safety standards should say?
Whenever the government is required to implement a new safety standard, they look first to existing standards that have been used and proven effective. ASTM International was founded 100 years ago when some engineers wanted a way to standardize materials, and it has grown into an enormous nonprofit organization whose standards are recognized, respected, and used worldwide.
CPSC does carefully examine the standards for weakenesses, but often implements them exactly or nearly exactly as ASTM has written them — ASTM standards are intense, continually revisited and revised, written with an eye to the most common safety problems a product can present, and include the voices of all kinds of different interested parties from scientists to politicians to consumers to companies.
Recently, CPSC adopted F2236, the standard governing mei tais, SSCs, soft carriers, and related “wrap conversion” carriers as mandatory. Now, they are preparing to do the same thing for the last category of carriers, infant slings and wraps (including pouches and carrying shirts). The standardization of mei tais has not killed the industry, although it has affected the way many do business. The standardization of wraps and ring-slings will not kill the industry either — what it *will* do is to regulate those making shoddy slings with craft rings out of unsuitable fabric, for instance. The most likely scenario is that CPSC will adopt F2907 exactly or nearly exactly as it is written. One cannot write a perfect standard, but many BCIA members have incurred great expense by traveling twice a year to these meetings to have a voice in writing the standard, taking time away from their businesses and families to ensure micro-manufacturers and artisan businesses have a voice in the process.
So what do the BCIA and other trade organizations do?
The BCIA’s mission statement:
The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance exists to increase awareness of the value of quality baby carriers and to support those in the baby carrier industry. The BCIA was formed in 2010 as a 501(c)(6) corporation. As an alliance of industry leaders, the BCIA is organized to propagate standards across the industry, promote educational outreach, participate in research, and help small businesses comply with standards. We are passionate about babywearing and about the baby carrier industry. Everyone on the board has been or is a babywearing business owner or educator (or both!). We know how hard you all work on your business or as educators teaching others how to carry their children. Many of us started our businesses at our kitchen tables (and some of us still work from home). It is our goal to serve the needs of babywearing businesses and educators, both large and small.
This statement is posted on the BCIA’s website in a very accessible place. The primary work is handled by about 15 volunteers — parents, some who have 5 or 6 children — all of whom also own and operate babywearing businesses. Linnea Catalan, BCIA’s paid executive director, is paid for part-time work and often finds herself volunteering additional hours in addition to her not-for-profit babywearing education work and caring for her three children. (Should I add, “maintaining a marriage?” Cuz ain’t nobody on the BCIA board got time for that!)
BCIA has been careful from its inception not to infringe on the significant and important work of Babywearing International. BWI’s mission statement:
Babywearing International, Inc. (BWI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to promote babywearing as a universally accepted practice, with benefits for both child and caregiver, through education and support. The heart of BWI is our network of local chapters which provide free educational meetings and support within their own communities. All BWI chapters are led by Volunteer Babywearing Educators (VBEs) with extensive knowledge of different types of baby carriers and babywearing safety. While Babywearing International chapters do not sell or endorse specific brands of baby carriers, most chapters maintain lending libraries so that members and attendees can try a variety of carriers to determine what meets their individual needs.
Side rant from a woman who did NOT budget a weekend away from my mothering and work responsibilities to do crisis-related volunteer work, and whose family and employee (and friend) have made tremendous sacrifices in both time and money (thousands of those dollars could have been spent on a raise for my employee, or maybe a family vacation, or even bagels and cream cheese) so she could be a part of the solution these last 6 years
As you can see, neither organization has included informing the general public about changes to babywearing industry regulation in their mission statements, and both organizations use volunteers to efficiently pour their VERY limited resources into achieving their missions in the most economical and time-efficient way possible.
Some people are loudly asking, “Why didn’t I know about this?” The answer to that is, I don’t know. I guess you weren’t interested. The BCIA’s been talking about this for 4 years, and before that, a very vocal group of business owners were talking about it. Hotslings was initially driven out of business by the regulations — though the brand was eventually sold and resurrected by the owners of Seven Slings. And I need to tell you something very important about most of us from that original group — in particular, Darien Wilson (originally Zolowear), Vesta Garcia (originally EllaRoo and Peppermint), Kristen DeRocha (originally Hotslings), and me — NOBODY has EVER, EVER accused us of being too quiet. We are ostentatious, outspoken (occasionally perhaps we’ve been accused of being obnoxious in trying to get the smallest members of this industry to listen) women who, if anything, are TOO quick to tell it like it is. (There are also more diplomatic, polite folks who were part of that first fight — Susan Gmeiner of Maya Wrap and Rochelle Price of SlingRings, for instance).
Anyone willing to listen to the very loud message the BCIA has been screaming — or the “group” of us before that who spent years trying to get enough people willing to listen to form a trade organization — ANYONE who has known about these impending regulatory changes has communicated with their customers, including educators, retailers, and manufacturers. BCIA communicates with members, most of whom are grateful for those communications and open the emails eagerly. Whenever someone sees a nonmember babywearing business who knows about us, they get a very nice referral.
Many, many artisan businesses and some of the larger corporations also have said, “I don’t need BCIA. I can manage all this myself — all the laws are publicly available.” Totally true. Or, “I can’t afford $10-$15 a month to get up-to-date industry information that’s already been filtered for me.” Cool. If a business is not making enough profit to justify that expense, then they are likely not selling enough carriers to matter to the economy. If they ARE making a profit and choose to spend it on other things, that is completely their perogative. BCIA is just one of a zillion tools available to babywearing business-owners.
Rant over. Back to my regularly (un)scheduled article.
The voice of and for babywearing consumers, parents, and sling/wrap collectors
Above, I outlined the two primary babywearing nonprofit 501c organizations in the US. One is a 501c3, and the other is a 501c6 — the difference being one furthers industry, and the other doesn’t.
If you’d like more information about things not included in their mission statements, you have a couple of options:
- Form a new nonprofit dedicated to gathering and dispensing the information you think is important
- Request that an existing organization form a committee doing the work you would like them to, and volunteer to chair the committee
- Read news and publications relating to the information you want more of, such as the CPSC’s newsletters (to which I subscribe) or Nancy Nord’s blog posts (which are amazing)
- Write or find and read a blog (or blogs) that inform people about the area in which you are interested
Last bit: In the US, we expect the toys, drugs, vitamins, car seats, cribs, and clothing (among other things) we buy to be safe. There are trade-offs that we have to make as a nation in order to have that kind of assurance. We know, as consumers, that many companies, both large and small, will cut corners by accident or on purpose. Also, the recent outcry from some artisan baby carrier manufacturers makes it clear that we cannot simply rely on manufacturers to be aware of all regulations (designed to make sure manufacturers know and avoid common hazards) when making children’s products. Any parent expects to be able to purchase a baby carrier with assurance it is non-toxic, the baby will not fall, the carrier has no parts or threads where a baby’s pinky finger can become stuck, and the labels are sewn on well enough not to be a choking hazard. Plus a lot more. The government is not conspiring to put tiny manufacturers out of business, regardless of what I think of their methods. They are, rather, aspiring to keep tiny babies safe. We all want that. It’s why we’re so damn passionate about babywearing in the first place.
Latest posts by Kristi Hayes-Devlin (see all)
- Inside Canada’s Oldest Breastfeeding and Babywearing Store - April 27, 2017
- Babywearing keeps you connected with yourself - March 9, 2017
- Even the best baby wraps wear out — but when? - February 22, 2017