On Christmas morning, millions of children in America will open their presents to find this year’s most popular toys. Unfortunately, the Christmas spirit is long gone for many of the children who worked long hours to make those toys. The reality is that most of the toys gifted on Christmas morning are made with child labor or forced labor, by children as young as 7 years old; children who should be enjoying their childhood and playing with toys themselves, not be forced to make our toys.
Whenever I am considering a gift for my nephew or nieces, I hold a toy in my hands, and wonder what little hands touched these toys when working long hours, with low pay, in hazardous conditions. The China Labor Watch (CLW) has described the toy industry as “one of the worst industries in terms of labor rights”. Toys imported to America are often made by children in Asia working 14 hours in crowded factories where they are exposed to toxic chemicals. What’s worse is that millions of these children are “bonded laborers”- either they were sold into slavery or used to pay off inherited debt from their parents.
So which toy brands are on the “Naughty List”? Disney, Mattel, Walmart, Hasbro, and Fisher-Price are a few of the big companies who have been accused of using child labor or forced labor to make their toys. Investigations into these companies were conducted in 2018 and found that there are workers including children being subjected to serious violations, including poor pay, forced overtime, and unsafe workspaces.
The good news is that there are is a growing awareness of this labor abuse by organizations like the Child Labor Coalition, and there are a growing number of companies seeking to make toys in ethical factories, without child or forced labor. Read below for a list of my favorite toy brands. I hope you will take a stand this holiday season and shop locally or from these socially responsible companies. Because children should be playing with toys- not making them for other children.
1. Green Toys
Type: Vehicles, bath toys, outdoor, role play, arts & crafts
Ages: Baby & toddler
Green Toys Amazon Store
This California-based company takes traditional play designs and creates toys that are made from 100% recycled plastic (for example old yogurt cups milk jugs!) and uses 100% recycled cardboard for its packaging. Green Toys has a tight local supply chain and strict safety standards to ensure that the toys you give your child are non toxic and perfect for safe play! Also, Green Toys currently has a Disney collection, so you can buy guilt-free Disney toys!
Type: Early learning, wooden toys, bath toys, pretend play, building blocks, dolls, games
Ages: Baby to 8+
Haba puts children first and even states that you won’t find children “running around in their factory”. That’s because this family owned and operated business has taken care of its employees for over 80 years and believes that children should be playing with toys- not making them. Haba uses toys made with reforested wood, with non-toxic water based stains and lacquers. These European toys are just delightful!
Type: Dolls, rattles, pull-alongs, baby accessories
Ages: Baby & toddler
Pebble started as a small nonprofit kitting company in Bangladesh, a poverty-stricken country normally at high-risk for labor abuse. Pebble’s creator moved to Bangladesh and taught 24 women there to knit and sew. The women started selling their sweet hand knit toys internationally to support their families. This Fair Trade certified company grew and grew and launched their commerce website in 2016 for all to enjoy!
Type: Imaginative play, wooden toys, dolls, vehicles, train sets, blocks, games
All toys are created from whimsical hand sketches by the company’s designer. The company works alongside a family-run factory in Indonesia which employs safe and dependable for hundreds of local villagers. All toys are tested for longevity and to meet strict safety standards to ensure safe play for your child! Tender Leaf Toys are also committed to protecting Indonesia’s natural resources. They use reclaimed trees to make their toys, and for every reclaimed tree used, they plant a new tree! Tender Leaf Toys has some of the most unique and beautiful designs I have seen!
Type: Stuffed animals, dolls, prints
Ages: Baby, toddler, 3+
Cuddle +Kind produce some of the cutest hand knit animals and dolls around! This family-owned company works with artisans in Peru to produce these fair trade toys natural, high-quality cotton. You can also get a matching print to go with your doll! The dolls are perfect for babies and toddlers, but are the type of classic toy that your child will keep for years to come! Plus, every doll gives 10 meals to children in need!
6. Plan Toys
Type: Wooden toys, imaginative play, building blocks, games, educational, active play
Ages: Baby & toddler, 3+
Plan Toys’ mission is to create a sustainable world by considering factors such as the environment, ethical business practices, and childhood development and safety. Green Toys aims to build a sustainable path for our youth by using eco friendly materials and using innovative sustainability practices to protect our oceans and ecosystems. All toys are made in ethical factories in Thailand.
7. Finn + Emma
Type: Baby accessories, stuffed animals, dolls, rattles, macrame toys
Ages: Babies & toddlers
Finn + Emma has a beautiful collection of organic cotton children’s clothing, but they also have a variety of toys. I especially love their wooden baby gyms and macrame toys and swings! Finn + Emma’s goal is to balance style and sustainability with unique designs and organic, toxic-free items. Finn + Emma’s toys are made with organic cotton, eco friendly dyes, and natural wood by locals working in fair trade settings.
Type: Stuffed animals, luxury toys
Ages: All ages
Meet the softest toys you will ever get your hands on! This luxury toy brand is sold in many stores worldwide. Jelly Cat is committed to working closely with people along its supply chain and adheres to the Modern Slavery Act that the the UK passed in 2015 to protect people from trafficking and forced labor. You can rest assured knowing no children made your soft critters!
Type: Educational, arts & crafts, games, puzzles, building blocks, make your own toy kits, science projects
Ages: All ages, including tweens!
Uncommon Goods is a marketplace full of unique, sustainable goods made by a variety of artists, and includes a kids section for kids of all ages. All items are unique, handmade, use reclaimed or recycled materials, are handmade by artisans, and serve a purpose. I will say these are some of most unique toys I have seen- including light up drawing and virtual reality shirts, sound-activated light up blocks, and 3D creature kits!
10. Bella Luna Toys
Type: Wooden toys, dolls, arts & crafts, musical instruments, Waldorf toys
Ages: Babies, toddlers, 7+
Bella Luna is a toy market place committed to providing quality natural toys for children of many ages. Bella Luna sells toys from Haba and many other great ethical and sustainable toys companies. Bella Luna is committed to using eco friendly materials in toys and packaging, reusing and recycling its supplies, and creating safe, toxic-free toys using fair trade practices. Some of the more notable items are the famous Waldorf dolls,
Happy responsible shopping!