Ethical slings and carriers
Sales of equipment used to transport babies and small children are at an all-time high – despite the falling birth rate. This may be because the days of hand-me-downs are on the wane. Manufacturers of car seats, prams, pushchairs, buggies and slings are apparently attempting to boost sales by stigmatising the use of second-hand and older-style items. Market research also points to a decrease in numbers of parents buying second-hand baby equipment and a growing willingness to pay for premium baby products.(1)
Although there are genuine safety concerns when using second-hand baby equipment (covered later), a major factor in purchasing decisions appears to be the rise of celebrity culture. Famous parents such as David Beckham and the like are often snapped parading their offspring in bells-and-whistles designer buggies: such images have transformed these once-mundane products into aspirational fashion items.
Move over, Mary Poppins. One brand’s website speaks of its products’ “funky, sporty aerodynamics and a feel of luxury and urban styling” (2) – a blurb more reminiscent of a car advert.
Codes of conduct
To add to the confusion, there is a baffling array of choice in the sector. 176 different companies advertised baby equipment in the UK in 2002 - almost all of which were small operations producing limited ranges.(7) We contacted all of the companies on the table requesting information on their codes of conduct addressing workers’ rights in supplier factories.
All those receiving a full circle either did not respond or do not have a code of conduct on their website. All those receiving a dot have a code of conduct, but no named independent monitoring to ensure this code is enforced. BabyBjörn says that it uses 'independent institutes,' but does not name them.
The only companies to receive a clear mark in this column are Huggababy and Wilkinet as all of their products are made in the UK, exempting them from ECRA’s rating in this report.
Industry trade bodies such as the Baby Products Association have influenced consumer attitudes by playing up the safety concerns that need to be addressed when using second-hand baby equipment. Although there are many important factors to consider when inheriting or buying pre-used products, particularly where car seats are concerned, it seems likely that the soundest advice will come from independent sources, rather than trade organisations which could conceivably play on parents’ natural worries in order to sell more products.
Certainly, producing leaflets entitled: “A child’s safety is worth every penny” strikes enough fear into parents to persuade them to part with hundreds of pounds for a new item; but if you follow simple safety advice when choosing second-hand equipment, it may not always be necessary to buy new.
As is evident from the table, few companies reach the standard required to receive a clear mark. The Swedish company Lillemor Design, which makes the BabyBjörn brand of slings, is amongst the more environmentally aware, stating that: “No BabyBjörn product contains cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, phthlalates, bromine or chlorine…[or] PVC.”(11) Unfortunately it does not make buggies or car seats. However, Baby Dan, which does make buggies, declares that it does not use PVC in any of its products.
Obviously you’ll need some form of equipment to transport your offspring. But it doesn’t have to be an expensive, all-terrain, ergonomically designed machine with go-faster stripes and a plastic ring to hold your coffee.
Across the world and across time, women (and enlightened men) have made baby equipment using simple pieces of fabric to attach the child to their bodies. It takes up less room, brings your baby closer to you, and has a much lower environmental impact, in terms of the type and amount of resources used, than a shopping trolley-sized PVC and metal pushchair.
You can even make a baby sling at home – according to one website this should only take about an hour – with no special skills required!(10) Huggababy make an organic sling priced at around £44, available direct from Huggababy on 0870 046 4844 or from Green Baby on 0870 240 6894.
Our in-house baby expert reports that although slings are fine for young babies, the front and back carriers (produced by BabyBjörn, Prémaxx and Wilkinet) are more suitable for older babies and toddlers. Although none currently produce an organic version, Wilkinet says it should have one ‘on the shelves’ in 2005.
Some alternative parenting writers argue that slings and carriers are better for a baby’s wellbeing because of the close human contact they provide. One reporter has quoted research showing that: “babies who spent more time close to their mothers were more content to be separated from them at 13 months; they cried and whined less when with a stranger and behaved as if they were more secure (as compared to babies left to bounce in a soft seat).”(12)
1 Keynote Baby Products 2003
2 http://www.mamasandpapas.co.uk, viewed on 7/5/04
3 Which?, 01/02
4 Keynote Baby Products 2003 5 Ibid.
6 Keynote Baby Products 2003
8 Email from Bugaboo Design Director, 30/4/04
9 www.babydan.com, viewed on 4/5/04
10 See http://www.lydias-legacy.com/how_to_make_a_baby_sling.htm for the only free sling pattern we could find on the internet
11 www.babybjorn.com/index.asp?language=US, viewed 7/5/04
12 ‘Early Days’ Timbs, O., 01/88, The Lancent, taken from ‘Three in a Bed’, p67, Jackson, D., 1989