The EU wants stricter rules for toys: Catherine Van Reeth and Sanjay Luthra from Toy Industries of Europe tell Toy World what the toy sector can expect from the new Directive.
Over the summer, the European Commission proposed a new set of rules to replace the trusted EU Toy Safety Directive. We sat down with Sanjay Luthra (SL), executive vice president and managing director at Mattel EMEA and chair of Toy Industries of Europe‘s (TIE) Board of Directors, and Catherine Van Reeth (CVR), director general, to understand what the toy sector can expect.
Why did the old Directive need to be changed in the first place?
SL: We’ve been asking ourselves the same question: we never saw hard evidence from the EU authority that the old Directive was ineffective or did not protect children enough.
CVR: ‘Protecting children’ always sounds good. In the last few years, the European Commission has pushed a lot for its Green agenda, something we see in this proposal as well. We sense confusion between ‘greener toys’ and ‘safer toys’ and this is clearly something we will need to clarify. Don’t get me wrong, we applaud toy sector initiatives that promote environmental sustainability. But when it comes to legislation, such rules should be applied to all consumer products, not just toys, otherwise the impact will be very limited.
What are the main changes the Commission proposes?
CVR: The most notable change is the proposal to ban a whole range of substances that are currently allowed in toys if their presence is safe.
SL: The proposal also introduces the Digital Product Passport. This will be the carrier of our Declaration of Conformity. I’m sure a lot of toy companies will welcome the digitalisation of some of our information, but exactly what needs to be in the passport still has to be decided. It shouldn’t bring too much bureaucracy and we also don’t want any trade secrets to be shared publicly. It will not be easy and will take some time to implement considering toymakers have thousands of SKUs.
What would this mean for toy makers?
SL: Toy companies, big and small, will have to change the way they deal with chemicals. The difference is that for bigger companies, these changes may be more easily digestible as they have more resources on that front.
CVR: It may mean our companies need to look for alternatives. If not, they may have difficulties proving the toys comply. Exemptions to these bans will be hard to get. Let’s face it, most people don’t like to think there may be chemicals in a toy. It is very difficult to explain that there is no reason to worry. When it comes to toys, people vote with their gut instinct, not with cool logic, and this makes the lobbying quite difficult. But we carry on.
How will these rules affect UK toy companies?
SL: It doesn’t matter where toy companies are based, if they want to sell into the EU, their toys will need to be compliant with the new rules which makes it fair for all.
Are there any positive elements in the proposal?
CVR: Yes, we like the fact that there should be less room for different interpretations at national level, so the Toy Safety Regulation in France should be exactly the same in Germany. Of course, there is always the human factor and we know from experience that someone at customs in Italy, for example, may have a different personal point of view on some issues than someone from market surveillance in Sweden. It will never be absolutely the same set of rules.
We understand these changes will be quite important, but when will this hit us all?
CVR: It won’t happen overnight: there is a complex political decision-making process taking place that could take a few years. The earliest we could expect this to become law is end-2024. In that case, toys would need to comply with the new rules by mid-2027. We think this is too tight. Given the number of elements that still need to be worked out before we can start applying the rules, the timing is unrealistic. We will be pushing to get more leeway in terms of timing. Let’s not forget toys are already safe, and the current Toy Safety Directive is considered the strictest worldwide.
SL: As Catherine mentions, we will definitely need more time than what is currently foreseen. Also, once the new rules would come into effect, we would only have one year to sell the toys that are compliant with the old rules. To give an example: for classic Uno or Hot Wheels cars, this makes no sense as they have a sell-through period of more than one year. We all want to avoid having to destroy unsold goods, a practice which is not at all in line with the Green agenda of the EU. It is also a banned practice in certain countries.
What amendments would TIE like to see in the final rules?
CVR: We clearly want to avoid the worst-case scenario where some suppliers will no longer be interested in catering for the toy industry, especially SMEs. If we have more stringent requirements than most other consumer products, suppliers may turn away from the toy sector unless they price the materials much higher.
SL: And let’s not forget that there are many stakeholders trying to influence the process. There will be parties pushing for even less flexibility for the industry.
CVR: It may be wishful thinking, but we would like to see some requirements introduced for online platforms that are selling toys where no-one else within the EU is responsible for their safety. We all know this is how most dangerous toys get into kids’ hands and that this kind of requirement could make a real difference.
Do you think it’s looking quite dismal?
SL: It won’t be easy, but we’re staying positive that we’ll be able to secure more reasonable requirements. In my experience, the toy industry is very resilient: we will find a way to deal with this. It is reassuring to see, how within TIE, company experts learn from each others’ expertise and always manage to find solutions to the problems they are facing. That’s why it’s important we stand together as an industry through TIE.