Friday, November 28, 2008

When books won't quite cut it

There are two young people in my life who, much as they appreciate the many books they receive as gifts every year, have their hearts set on certain other items appearing under the tree.

After reading Kelsey Timmerman's Where Am I Wearing?, my squirmy discomfort about products made in China has evolved into a full-fledged boycott: no gifts from Chinese-owned factories this year. The joy of giving loses its flavor when you realize that those gift-buying dollars are going to support companies which treat their workers as property; as an expendable part of their manufacturing "machine."

My kids are all for human rights, so when I told them my intentions they gave no argument. But the reality hit this afternoon when we browsed a small, locally-owned toy store, checking the bottoms of boxes. Watching an eight-year-old gradually sink from joyous ("Wow! Cool toy!") to crestfallen ("Made in China. Again.") is no fun. No fun at all. So I've been doing a little digging this afternoon and I thought I'd share the results.

We're already big fans of Playmobil and Lego, which are both manufactured in Europe. (One source reports that electronic components of some Lego sets are made in China, as is the packaging).

Bruder is a German company, who makes realistic-looking plastic vehicles that appealed to Evan. Their website says that 95% of their production is in their German factory. Free ground shipping right now, too. Siku, another German company, makes die cast metal vehicles, some of which are remote control, though we didn't see them at that toy store.

We found bamboo toys by HaPe, who also makes wooden toys and cloth puppets. These are made in a German-owned-and-operated factory in China using European materials. Buying these products supports an opportunity for Chinese workers to be treated humanely and paid a living wage. The company has also built two new schools in the most impoverished province of southern China.

Games are another good option, from companies such as Briarpatch, whose games are American-made, and Ravensburger (the games we checked were made in Europe, the Czech Republic I think?).

For younger kids, Viking Toys are manufactured in Thailand for a Swedish company, and the Little Tikes website has a feature where you can sort for toys made in the U.S.
For more information about purchasing non-Chinese-made products for both adults and children, check out Not Made in China, which is full of links to trust-worthy brands and includes gift lists by age.

The Daily Green lists over 250 lead-free, American-made toys, and tips for finding them.

And of course, that there will be books under the tree goes without saying.

Any other suggestions?


  1. Your post got me thinking - I wonder how many books are made in China under less than fair conditions? Maybe I shouldn't open that can of worms...

  2. I try to avoid Chinese made products, too. When I read Tears of the Desert and found out what China's doing in Africa, that just reinforced it for me. I've got to read Where am I Wearing now.

  3. Wow, I can't imagine having to go into the store with kids and being so frustrated. But, I think it's cool they are into it and willing to go along with what you believe. Thanks for all the info about toys, I'm sure it will be helpful for people looking to do the same.


  4. Wow. I guess I just never really thought before about how much stuff is actually made in China. Thanks for sharing this list - I'll definitely keep it in mind while Christmas shopping this year. :)

  5. Great post Ali. The smarter we are about where we spend our dollars the better and more just world we make. :) Now why do you only have partial feed?!?

  6. Sorry, Amy! I used to have full feed but I'm experimenting with a partial feed for now.

    BermudaOnion, I haven't read Tears of the Desert. I imagine it's a real eye opener, too.

    Jessi and Kim, thanks, both of you. I hope it'll be useful to somebody.

  7. What an interesting blog and conversation! Ali, I admire your resolve and your world view. The shrinking of the globe does bring with it difficult decisions. As a side note: I live in Thailand, and when girls work in factories here, that job gives them a choice of avoiding the flesh trade--even though they make less in factories, it gives them an alternative, and having a choice is worth a lot.
    Janet at PaperTigers blog

  8. Thank you for saying that, Janet, that's really good to know. Timmerman makes a similar point about factory workers in Cambodia, though his focus is on the people who make their living picking through garbage at the dump. Cambodian factory workers may not be paid a lot by, for example, American standards. But some of their alternatives are so much worse.

  9. Update: I went shopping today and found that, even in the big box store, a lot of the cardboard-backed puzzles were made in the USA. So that's another good option to consider.