Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

20 November 2013

Major Swiss Department Store Advertises "Toxic" Tablets for Children from Age 3 in Their Christmas Catalog : Letter to Manor and Their Reply

We have now received a reply from Manor which does not exactly address the points raised in our letter. Swiss law, unlike the Belgian laws to come into effect in March 2014, allows advertising tablets and cell phones to very young children, under 7 years old. We doubt that all parents responsibly read and adhere to the safety instructions in the manuals. We also have some doubts about working conditions in certain factories in China, for example, we are still reading that conditions have not improved that much in some of the factories contracted by Apple. Finally, the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health continues to deny that use of wireless technologies, especially by young children, carries health risks.

Reply from Manor (translated from French by the Editor of this blog.)

Dear Madam,

Your letter dated 6 November 2013 has received our full attention. We would ask you to take note of our position, set out below.

Tablets for children are provided for personalization by parents. It is thus recommended to block certain Internet content, to introduce a time limit on use, etc. Thanks to these different measures which are easy to program, parents can ensure that their children respect their will and safety instructions.

We also would like to emphasize that the different products you have mentioned conform entirely to the various laws in force. Precautions for use must be observed. That is why familiarization with the users’ manuals by parents or adults is particularly important. Our collaborators in our stores reply gladly to questions and requests for information from people who would like to have more details. We rely on insisting on the individual responsibility of each person since information and requirements are clearly stated in the instruction manuals.

Concerning VTech and its tablet Storio 2, we are able to confirm that this company has signed our « Compliance Agreement » and it also has a valid ICTI [International Council of Toy Industries *] certification. VTech has moreover confirmed in writing that its Storio 2 tablet has effectively been made in conformity with this certification.

Yours truly,

Elle Steinbrecher
Head of Corporate Communications
Manor AG, Basel

(footnote added by Editor of this blog):
*The CARE (Caring, Awareness, Responsible, Ethical) Process is the International Council of Toy Industries' (ICTI - http://www.toy-icti.org/) program to promote ethical manufacturing, in the form of fair labor treatment, as well as employee health and safety, in the toy industry supply chain worldwide. Its initial focus is in China, where 80 percent of the world's toy volume is manufactured. Its intent is to provide a single, fair, thorough and consistent program to monitor toy factories' compliance with ICTI's Code of Business Practices (the "Code"). 

Letter addressed to the CEO of Manor [one of Switzerland’s main department stores] on 6 November 2013 from a member of ARA, group raising awareness of the risks of wireless technology and advocating for its safer use (www.alerte.ch):

Dear Sir:

Manor’s 2013 Christmas Catalogue of toys has caught my special attention.

Tablets are among the toys offered to young children. Several of the electronic devices mentioned, for example, the Lexibook “Junior” 8 GB, conceived for children aged 3 to 8, have Wi-Fi connections. There are also mobile telephones on the market, conceived for young children.

The waves emitted by these wireless devices are classified by the World Health Organization as possibly carcinogenic. Wi-Fi is particularly aggressive to the human body and can cause all kinds of health problems such as heart problems, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and concentration problems. Tablets connected to Wi-Fi should never be used in direct contact with the bodies of children: hands, laps, abdomen, etc. because Wi-Fi represents a danger to their health similar to that of cell phones.  Moreover, use of these electronic devices can generate language, writing, and reading difficulties in young children.

The Instruction Manual for the Lexibook “Junior” (ref: MFC270EN - http://lexibook.us/media/instit/instit-manuals/IM_MFC270EN_09.pdf) warns that « This product is not a toy, adult supervision is required.” It lists 31 safety instructions, including:

- Do not use the product on your lap for more than 30 minutes, without a 5-minute break at least
- Do not drop the device. Do not expose it to mechanical shock, friction or impact.
- Do not push hard on the screen and do not place objects on top of it. This can cause tears in the screen

How many children aged 3 or 4 respect these instructions ?

The Manual also warns about epilepsy:

“Some people are susceptible to epileptic seizures or loss of consciousness when exposed to certain kinds of flashing lights or elements common in our everyday environment. These individuals may suffer a seizure when they watch certain televised images or when they play certain video games. These phenomena can occur even if the person has no previous medical history or has never suffered an epileptic seizure.

General Precautions When Using Video Games:

- Do not stand too close to the screen.
- Avoid playing when tired or when needing sleep.
- When in use, take breaks of 10 to 15 minutes every hour.

How many parents read the Instruction Manual?

Manor’s catalogue also includes the VTech Storio 2 tablet. The working conditions in the VTech factories in China are often deplorable. According to a report published in June 2012 by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, VTech employees must work standing up 12 to 15 hours a day, six days a week for a salary that is below the minimum wage. They suffer health problems created by exposure to toxic thinners used to clean circuit boards.

It is time that the stores which sell these electronic devices behave in a more responsible manner by not offering such toys, « toxic » to the workers who assemble them and to the health of young children who use them. Our association strongly hopes that Manor will withdraw these dangerous devices from their catalog as a matter of urgency!

Yours truly,
Meris Michaels,
Committee Member,
Association Romande Alerte (ARA)

Copy to :
Mrs. Zeynep Ersan Berdoz, Directrice, Bon à Savoir
Mrs. Monika Dusong, Présidente, Fédération romande des consommateurs
Mr. Stephan Oetiker, Directeur, Pro Juventute
Dr. Yvonne Gilli, National Councilor, Swiss Parliament and member of Physicians in Favor of the Environment (MfE)

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