Why isn't radical transparency the norm?
I've got an invitation from my friend Fiona to go to a workshop about 'Baby stuff' - I don't have children, but I went along, as clearly Fiona needed company. Terese Hoffeldt, founder of Hevea, was presenting with passion and suddenly I went from my mails to full attention as clearly I had a lot to learn
The organic baby market is thriving and in the last 5 years natural baby products have dominated the emerging markets, in spite the economic downturn' she said; However, although we seem to be increasingly stringent about what we feed our children, we appear to be a lot more relaxed about the toys and dummies we allow our children to regularly suck on or chew.
So what exactly are these products made of and what are the risks? Fundamentally, I learned it boils down to two chemicals; Phthalates and Bisphenol, which worryingly can be found in a number of products that have been designed for babies and young children to put in their mouths.
Phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are a group of odourless, liquid chemicals produced from oil that are used as 'plasticers' and commonly added to products to increase their softness and flexibility. Bisphenol A is widely used as a building block for polycarbonate plastic that is used in plastic products such as shatter-resistant baby bottles and toys. Both chemicals can be easily ingested through chewing or sucking on items that contain them. -
You will be horrified to learn that Phthalates has earned the reputation as a 'gender-bending' or 'hormone disrupting' chemical due to associated problems caused to the delicate balance of the endocrine system which controls our reproduction. In addition, tests have shown a connection to damage caused to the liver and kidneys.
Although tighter restrictions have been put in place to stop the most dangerous strains being used, both chemicals can still be found in thousands of products worldwide and there is still no outright ban. The truly astonishing factor is that manufactures are not obliged to list the chemical make-up of products making it impossible to know if these chemicals are present.
Well, the good news is that there are plenty of companies out there that wear their 'free from Phthalates & Bisphenol A' badge with pride and offer a range of infant products.
Heavea being one of them - all of their products are made from 100% natural rubber latex meaning parents do not have to worry about the presence of harmful materials such as PVC, BPA, phthalates and artificial colouring. The natural make-up of the rubber means that it is soft and gentle on your baby's face and they have a fantastic range of 'pacifiers' and toys that infants can chew or suck on to their hearts content with parents safe in the knowledge that they are free from any nasties.
In the old days trust was everything - people who made toys for children lived in the community where they sold their toys and games. If they sold poisons to children their reputation rightly suffered and they'd go out of business. It's a bit like the horsemeat scandal - in the old days people bought beef from the butcher they knew rather than horsemeat via the trader in Cyprus who'd shipped it from Romania to a French company with a Luxembourg factory.
Of course the world has changed - and it's not changing back. But that doesn't mean trust has to disappear. The answer is simple but tough to implement. We need a radical form of transparency - global corporations that are completely honest with us, their consumers. We are, after all, the people who pay their wages.
And we can do this - if we act together, and if we buy the good stuff until it's no longer economic to try and sell us the bad stuff. If I'm going to talk about radical transparency, I need to live it as well, so I'll confess I have a vested interest. My site postiveluxury.com awards a trust mark - the Blue Butterfly, the mark of positive living - so I would say this wouldn't I?
But it's true all the same. Sadly, until restrictions are stepped-up or chemicals are clearly labeled, parents have to audit their children's products. Workshops like Heavea - where you can learn and pass on to your network of friends - are one great way,but they are very rare. It is great to discover that there are great companies out there that still are willing to give something back.