Sunday, November 7, 2010

CPSIA - TIA's Toy Safety Certification Program Quietly Dies

TIA Members, please sit down before reading on.

Over the past three years, the Toy Industry Association famously invested millions of dollars in members' dues in something called the "Toy Safety Certification Program" (TSCP). When I say "millions", I mean it. On October 14, 2009, TIA outside counsel Rick Locker referred to "$2 million of technology" available to the industry via the TSCP website. He was referring to the cost of the program to date, roughly. The program began in August 2007 - that's about $1 million per year.

The TSCP recently died a natural death, mercifully. See Carter Keithley's September 7th release on this topic. I figure the program cost NO LESS THAN $3 million of TIA members' money, perhaps more, with NO return on investment. A TOTAL loss. Ouch. Don't expect any heads to roll.

The TSCP was a terrible idea from the get-go. For one thing, the TSCP was a business and the TIA should have NEVER tried to go into business in competition with its members, if only for the reason that real businesses beat dilettantes every time. I believe the business plan for the TSCP was fantastic, if it existed at all in any formal sense. No rational business person would have EVER made such a reckless investment but then again, it wasn't their money. . . so the bet apparently seemed "reasonable" to the decision-makers.

The basic concept underlying this massive bet with other people's money was that if the TSCP cracked down on its own members harshly enough, the CPSC might back off and let the industry police itself. The horrific historical analogs must not have occurred to anyone, nor their tragic ends.

The idea of the TSCP was flawed in several critical respects. First of all, the issues that spawned the CPSC had little to do with the standards - the problem was compliance. A program like the TSCP would hardly snare those who were indifferent to compliance - it was VOLUNTARY. Second, the theory required that the TIA be so harsh that the CPSC would let the TIA take over. Of course, this made the TSCP a rather unappetizing vehicle for most of us. And it was VOLUNTARY. We never considered participating.

Worst of all, the TSCP grossly favored the mass market companies in the toy industry. This could not have been a shock to anyone as the authors of the program were largely mass market toy people. I documented this in my October 18, 2009 blogpost entitled "The TIA Just Wants to HELP You!". The program was going to kill all but a few of us, but that didn't stop the TIA.

What ultimately stopped the TIA was a lack of business. Apparently, we weren't alone in disregarding the multi-million dollar investment of our industry organization. Rumor has it that certain large companies committed to using the program but then backed away when it became clear that no one was joining them in this fun. No one likes a competitive disadvantage, apparently. Who'da thunk it?

And the legacy of the TSCP? The TSCP did such a great job of outlining a horrific testing scheme that the CPSC used critical elements of it as a starting place for their "15 Month Rule". You can trace the harshness of the TSCP through to the pending rule on testing frequency and "reasonable" testing programs. Yes, the TIA provided this leadership - after all, if it's good enough for the TIA, how could the industry complain?

How, indeed. Pass the barf bag, please.

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