As a child, I was afraid of dolls (also known as Pediophobia). While those pieces of plastic don’t scare me much these days, the influx of toxic and otherwise dangerous (and sometimes lethal) toys does. Luckily, there are strict regulations in place all over the world. In this week’s article, we introduce you to the European Union Toy Safety Directive – EN 71.
What is EN 71?
EN71 is a set of European Product Safety standard that applies to all toys sold in the European Union. EN 71, which is also a part of the CE directive, has been put in place to ensure that all toys sold in the EU meet certain minimum safety standards on the following factors:
- Flame retardance
- Chemical composition
- Electrical Safety
Product safety is always a big deal, but even more so when it regards products that are (exclusively or not) used by children. In order to make things a bit more complicated, the EN 71 directive is not made up of only one part, but thirteen:
- EN 71-1: Mechanical and physical properties
- EN 71-2: Flammability
- EN 71-3: Specification for migration of certain elements
- EN 71-4: Experimental sets for chemistry and related activities
- EN 71-5: Chemical toys (sets) other than experimental sets
- EN 71-6: Graphical symbols for age warning labelling
- EN 71-7: Finger paints
- EN 71-8: Swings, slides and similar activity toys for indoor and outdoor family domestic use
- EN 71-9: Organic chemical compounds – Requirement
- EN 71-10: Organic chemical compounds – Sample preparation and extraction
- EN 71-11: Organic chemical compounds – Methods of analysis
- EN 71-12: N-Nitrosamines and N-Nitrosatable Substances
- EN 71-13: Olfactory board games, cosmetic kits and gustative games
The number of EN 71 parts that apply to a certain product depends on the products nature. Click here for a more detailed description of each part.
Is EN 71 compliance mandatory when importing toys to the European Union?
Yes. Whether the product is imported from China, or manufactured within Europe, makes no difference. It’s still a legal requirement. However, sometimes it’s hard to determine whether a product is considered as a toy. The most common definition is that any product for use in play and intended for children under 14 years, shall be classified as a toy – and is therefore required to be EN 71 compliant.
The importer responsibilities are listed below. However, these are regulations that might change tomorrow. Always contact your local authorities before ordering toys from a Chinese supplier.
- Ensure that the supplier is compliant with the EN 71 directive. You can read more about what this means here
- Ensure that your company name and address is printed on the product or its packaging
- Ensure that the EN 71 compliance is not affected by the storage or transportation of the product
- Ensure that samples of each batch are being lab tested
- Keep a register of product related complaints
- Inform the local authorities of any non-compliance
- Keep a copy of any related documents (such as certificates of compliance) for a minimum of 10 years
- Ensure that the products bears the CE mark (may also be printed on the product packing in case the product is not suitable for printing)
- Ensure that the product is accompanied by a user instruction manual
Most Chinese toy manufacturers are not EN 71 compliant!
Far from all Chinese manufacturers are compliant with EN 71. Prior to writing this post, I did some research on how many Chinese suppliers market their products as EN 71 compliant, on B2B websites such as Alibaba.com. The result is quite scary. Less than 12% of the suppliers market products as EN 71 compliant. Since we didn’t verify the compliance of these suppliers, this figure also includes fake and expired certificates. The actual EN 71 compliance rate might be as low as 3 – 5%.
Does this mean that the European market is flooded with non-compliant, and thus potentially dangerous toys? The answer is yes, and no. Noncompliant toys are present on the EU market, and there has been a number of forced withdrawals in recent years. Especially after the introduction of the latest EN 71 directories in 2011.
However, there’s a reason the compliance rate is low among Chinese manufacturers. Most of them are NOT exporting to the European Union at all. Mainly because manufacturing EN 71 compliant products require a certain degree of sophistication. Compliance requires a tight grip on the subcontractors and extensive testing of incoming components and materials. These quality management systems are expensive to put in place. Besides, EN 71 compliance is an EU standard and thus not a legal requirement in China.
The only reason for a supplier to ensure EN 71 compliance is if they are exporting toys to the EU. Broadly speaking, it’s only the top 5% of the Chinese toy manufacturers that are able to comply with the EN 71 toy safety directives. Yet, non-compliant suppliers in China are still more than willing to sell their products to European buyers.
Keep in mind that the importer (be it a company entity or an individual) is legally responsible for ensuring compliance with the relevant EN 71 directive. This responsibility can never be shifted to the Chinese supplier. Importing toys or other children’s products that are not in compliance with the applicable EN 71 directive is illegal and may result in a forced recall or serious fines.
It’s critical that you only deal with suppliers able to show previous compliance. Sounds complicated? We can help. When you order a Starter Package right here on Chinaimportal.com, we help you confirm which directive apply to your product – and source suppliers able to show previous compliance with EN 71. Click here to watch a demonstration video.
How can we ensure compliance with EN 71?
This is a two step process. To begin with, you shall never even think about purchasing toys from a supplier that cannot prove previous compliance with EN 71. No promise in the world (and especially not one made by a Chinese supplier) compares to extensive proof of previous compliance. This means that a supplier shall be able to produce a large number of compliance certificates and product test reports from previous batches.
One or two such documents are not enough. Working with suppliers that have produced only one or two EN 71 compliant batches is too much of a risk. Compliance must be part of the supplier quality management process, and its engineers shall understand the EN 71 directive inside out.
The 2nd step is ensuring that your products are compliant. Previous EN 71 compliance is not enough. This might sound strange at first, but manufacturing is not a science. In fact, it’s a fragile process and even Toyota mess things up from time to time. That’s why lab testing of each batch is mandatory when importing toys from China. This doesn’t mean that every single unit shall be lab tested, but at least a few.
There are several companies that do EN 71 compliance testing. Among them are SGS, Bureau Veritas (read their white paper on EN 71 here) and TÜV. All of these companies are present in China and can test your products before they are shipped to the Port of Destination.
What can happen if my products are non-compliant?
Authorities in the EU don’t negotiate with importers of non-compliant toys. EN 71 compliance is always mandatory. Selling such products will always result in a forced withdrawal from the market – or a lawsuit, in case anyone is injured by your products. Neither is the EU compensating importers of non-compliant products, even if the Chinese supplier caused the problem.
Keep in mind that the EN 71 directive is frequently updated. New chemicals are continuously restricted. This article may become outdated with short notice. However, I can assure you that the requirements are not going to be relaxed anytime soon (and for very good reasons).
Do you need help to ensure compliance with all mandatory safety standards?
We know how hard it can be to get a grip on product safety standards, labeling, documents and lab testing. To help startups get a grip on the process, and avoid crippling fines and forced product recalls – we created the Starter Package:
a. An overview of product safety standards in the United States, Europe, Australia & more
b. Mandatory document sample files
c. Product labeling template files
d. Checklists that guide you step-by-step through the entire compliance process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.