Sunday, November 26, 2017

When bad toys happen to good organizations

It's never too early in the holiday season to start worrying.

On Nov. 14, World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc.(W.A.T.C.H.) revealed the 10 nominees for its annual worst toy list when it comes to presenting a hazard for children. Including such items as a Wonder Woman sword, this might cause "blunt force injuries" or a fidget spinner, which might present choking injuries. The list is regularly announced in time to give holiday shoppers a heads up on how to avoid buying gifts for children that run the risk of bringing them as much pain as joy.

These are toys that, according to W.A.T.C.H. "should not be in the hands of children."

The Toy Association ( told the Associated Press that W.A.T.C.H.'s list was "needlessly frightening" to parents "because all toys sold in the United States meet rigorous safety standards." The Toy Association also took issue with the fact that W.A.T.C.H. did not actually "test the toys it focuses on."

But W.A.T.C.H. stands behind its list.

B.C., a reader in Boston, where W.A.T.C.H. is headquartered, writes that she appreciates the efforts to identify potentially dangerous toys before the gift-giving season. She works for a social services agency, which stages an annual toy drive for children in need of holiday gifts. Knowing what toys might present a hazard is useful to her group, she says.

Still, B. C. finds herself in a quandary. "We solicit and accept toy donations for a couple of months leading up to the holiday," she writes. "We're grateful for the generosity of donors who help to make sure that the children we serve are not disappointed. But if we receive one of the 10 toys on W.A.T.C.H.'s list, what's the right thing to do?"

If B.C. and her group have found W.A.T.C.H.'s list to be a useful guide in the types of toys to avoid giving children, then it should certainly refer to it when it starts doling out the donated toys to children. But occasionally, her agency receives some donations before W.A.T.C.H.'s new list comes out. If the agency ends up receiving gifts on W.A.T.C.H.'s list, it should stick with its policy of using the list as a guide and refrain from distributing those gifts.

Even if the agency doesn't have the current list, the right thing would be for it to create a list of W.A.T.C.H.'s dangerous toys from past years and include those in the material it sends out requesting toy donations. It can also indicate that it will use the new list as a guide when it is issued.

What B.C.'s group might also do, if it doesn't already, is to list for potential toy donors the types of toys that generally present a hazard for children, whether that includes small parts that present a choking hazard or weapon-like toys that present a bludgeoning hazard.

If a toy or two on W.A.T.C.H.'s list does find its way to B.C.'s agency, it can simply be set aside. There's no reason to chide the donor for donating something that could choke or otherwise harm a child. If all it receives this year are Nerf Zombie Strike Deadbolt Crossbows, B.C. and colleagues might have to bring their toy drive back from the dead by digging a little deeper for donations. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Joe Read said...

This is my idea of OSHA on steroids! Don’t step - you might slip. If you want to live a “no risk” life, shoot yourself!

Joe Read