Largely a cottage industry, Indian toys face little scrutiny

Largely a cottage industry, Indian toys face little scrutiny
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First Published: Tue, Aug 07 2007. 12 44 AM IST

Toy story: Educational toys at the New Little Genius factory in Mayapuri, New Delhi. The company is one of the few toymakers in the country that adheres to the EN71, a European Union standard for toys
Toy story: Educational toys at the New Little Genius factory in Mayapuri, New Delhi. The company is one of the few toymakers in the country that adheres to the EN71, a European Union standard for toys
Updated: Tue, Aug 07 2007. 12 44 AM IST
Noida: Among India’s toymakers, Tripple Ess Toys Pvt. Ltd appears to be a step ahead.
The factory sources materials from known, established vendors and employs high technology to design and manufacture toys. That’s rare and not even necessary in India’s unregulated sector devoted to child’s play.
In the wake of Mattel Inc.’s recall of 1.5 million toys last week, wary consumers are likely to force India’s toymakers to look inward, from safety guidelines to quality control. Currently, no mandatory checks exist to ensure that wooden puzzles are not
Toy story: Educational toys at the New Little Genius factory in Mayapuri, New Delhi. The company is one of the few toymakers in the country that adheres to the EN71, a European Union standard for toys.
covered in lead paint or that dolls are not made of toxic plastic.
The injection of capital, say manufacturers and observers alike, is key to keeping pace with demand and making investments in production, training and technology. But that’s a challenge in a mostly cottage industry, facing rising competition from China and customers who demand high quality at low prices.
Tripple Ess Toys sits in an industrial section of the Delhi suburb of Noida, an area marked by trash, black smoke and noxious fumes. The factory is small, but notably clean. Managing director Sunil Nanda studied chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and has been making toys for the last 20 years. Besides toys, the other half of his business produces moulds to make automobile parts and boasts advanced equipment to do so—helping both sides of Tripple Ess.
According to one estimate, the volume of India’s toy industry is $1 billion (Rs4,050 crore) in the organized sector and nearly $1.5 billion in the unorganized sector. Toy manufacturers say Chinese imports are estimated to account for approximately Rs3,000 crore of the organized market, far exceeding domestic production in the formal sector, which is about Rs1,500 crore.
Still, domestic production has more than doubled in the last decade. Though Indians still spend just 0.5% of their disposable income on toys, a growing middle class has fuelled demand. Ten years ago, the organized sector was valued at only Rs500 crore.
Yet, toy production in India remains labour-intensive and inefficient, dominated by small manufacturers, more than half of whom operate in the informal sector. Given the market demand for toys in the country, which domestic manufacturers do not have the capacity to meet, it is unrealistic to think they could compete with China’s low-cost manufacturing capabilities, says Nanda.
“Why should the Indian consumer sympathize with Indian toy manufacturers?” he asks. “India needs to invest in capital equipment, and human resources, engineers, designers.”
Most character toys sold in India are imported from China, mostly because they require high-tech moulds and mass manufacturing.
Toys such as these, discovered to be tainted with lead, are drawing scrutiny in the US. But an even bigger problem facing India’s toy industry is the use of plastics containing toxic levels of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium.
A 2006 study completed by Toxics Link, an Indian environmental advocacy organization, investigated the presence of toxic metals in unbranded toys made in India. It found alarming levels of lead and cadmium in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) soft toys manufactured in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, which together make up India’s largest manufacturing and supply centres. Delhi and Mumbai account for 95% of the country’s toy output, while Chennai is the gateway for most of the toy imports from China.
PVC is a commonly used material in consumer goods, found in hard and soft plastics. Lead components are often added to PVC as a stabilizer or to add colour. The Toxics Link study reports that metal stabilizers such as lead and cadmium are not chemically bound to the plastic polymer. As a result, children are at risk for exposure to heavy metals and lead poisoning when chewing or sucking on toys.
“Toxic toys are a big issue for the industry. It is extremely difficult to check this rampant practice because ascertaining the origin of most products made by smaller players is not feasible,” said Paresh Chawla, president of the Toy Association of India.
The PVC toys tested by Toxics Link were priced between Rs10 and Rs100. Unbranded toys, especially at lower price points, mostly cater to India’s poor urban and rural children. India is home to more than 130 million children below the age of six—the largest such population in the world.
According to the Toxics Link report, India does not have an enforceable standard for the total content of lead, cadmium and other toxic metals in toys. Although India has adopted certain European and American manufacturing standards, addressing such issues as sharp edges and toxicity levels, adherence to such safety requirements is largely voluntary. According to the Bureau of India Standards, not a single Indian toy manufacturer has registered with the body. Compliance is only mandatory when exporting toys.
“The assumption that everything is safe now is wrong. Lack of a safety code and use of safe material in making toys needs to be addressed first,” said Ravi Agwarwal, director, Toxics Link.
A report by research firm Euromonitor International on the Indian toy and game industry says that the formal sector has been lobbying the government to provide legislation to govern the quality and safety of goods.
That, however, would severely restrict the activity of their counterparts in the informal sector.
Sagar Malviya in Mumbai contributed to this story.
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First Published: Tue, Aug 07 2007. 12 44 AM IST