Thrift stores respond to new law

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The Salvation Army responds to new product safety law.

by Melissa Temme and Major Deborah Sjogren –

On Feb. 10, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSI Act) went into effect and requires all manufactures and sellers of children’s toys, clothing and shoes (for ages 12 years old and younger) to test these products to ensure that they do not exceed the minimum standard that has been established for lead content. The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) Commands determined that the cost and logistical challenges associated with testing every item for children under the age of 12 would force the organization to remove these items entirely from our stores.

The conservative national estimate for the cost in revenue and disposal fees for the ARC thrift and family stores alone tops $100 million annually or 10 percent of the total revenue from items sold in the fiscal year 2007/2008.

Possible impact on charities and shoppers
Given the severe impact this could have on the Army’s ability to provide service and the fact that the organization immediately began hearing from concerned shoppers, many of whom emotionally expressed concern over their inability to provide for their children’s needs without the thrift store option, the Army immediately collaborated with four other notable charities in forming the Donated Goods Coalition. Together with Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, Easter Seals and Volunteers of America, The Salvation Army has worked diligently to inform the government of the catastrophic impact that mandated lead testing of second-hand children’s clothing items would have on charities, the people we serve and those who shop at the thrift stores as a means to make ends meet.

The Salvation Army’s commitment
Since that time the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the government commission tasked with providing guidelines for implementation of the law, released second hand clothiers from the testing requirement; however, we, and other organizations like ours, could still be held liable under the law should we knowingly sell an item found to be in compliant with the new lead and phthalate standards for children’s items. The release from testing requirements meant that the Army would still be able to sell children’s items, but the question remained—how do we determine what items would not pass the legal requirements without testing? In early February, the CPSC provided initial guidance as to the types of items that typically contain unhealthy and illegal levels of lead and phthalates in children’s clothing. Our thrift stores, and those of our coalition partners, are using these guidelines in a good faith effort to sort out anything matching these descriptions (see below). Additionally, a notice is posted in each of the stores to make shoppers aware of the new legislation and to ask them to bring any concerning items to management’s attention. Those items will be taken from the floor and immediately discarded. The Army has committed that it will not knowingly sell anything that is in conflict with the new lead content requirements.

Finding a balance
The Salvation Army recognizes that this recent legislation is well intentioned and continues working with our partners, legislators and the CPSC to find a balance between protecting children from the dangers of lead while continuing to meet the needs of those we serve and the public who shop at our stores for affordable children’s clothing and shoes, particularly during this challenging economic time. Because of the strain of the testing requirement on first-hand retailers, the CPSC provided a one-year stay to all who are still required to test. This does not impact The Salvation Army or other second hand retailers. There are now multiple pieces of legislation working through the process, targeted at amending the current CPSI Act to provide certain protections for the second-hand retailer industry. If one or more are ratified, it would mean considerable breathing room would be given to non-profit thrift stores, for profit thrift stores, and thousands of independently owned and operated consignment stores, many of whom would be forced out of business without this kind of support.

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