12. November 2012 10:45
Beading is a skilled craft and fine beadwork an art. For many Native people, beadwork is part of tribal culture, a skill handed down from generation to generation. Because beadwork is used to make adornments for children as well as adults, and because some is classified as jewelry, it is regulated by law.
At present, U.S. consumer safety laws do not require any special documents to import beads and jewelry findings. Nor do they restrict beadwork and beaded jewelry for adults. However, the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act does regulate all products intended for children.
Only the State of California’s Lead-Containing Jewelry Law and Proposition 65 require special documents proving adult jewelry components meet their safety standards. Anyone who lives or works in California, or who sells to customers from California must comply with both of these laws.
California requires all manufacturers to provide certificates showing that their products comply with California law, and Proposition 65 requires anyone employing 10 or more people selling or distributing products in the State of California to include warning labels. These labels must state that the product contains specified hazardous materials or, that the product may contain a hazardous material.
With some exceptions, most beadwork for adults falls into the second category. The warning reads: “This product may contain a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.” There are two reasons why the warning is required.
First, because the chemicals listed in Proposition 65 are reviewed twice a year. California's logic is that just because beading components are not classified as harmful now, some chemical used for coloring or lining the beads may be found to cause harm in the future. Use of warning labels protects jewelry makers from unintentionally breaking the law.
Second, although these laws were intended to regulate things like cast lead jewelry charms for children, they have resulted in a flood of lawsuits that include possible harm to adults—not always because it was proven that someone got cancer from the product, but because they “might” get cancer. Without the warning, at some future date, the seller or maker of beaded jewelry may find themself in court trying to prove that their jewelry didn’t cause harm. Even though most beaders don't employ 10 or more people and are exempt from Proposition 65's warning, no one is exempt from the threat of lawsuits.
Certainly children should be protected from toxic materials. But how far we should go to protect adults from possible harm caused by swallowing or inhaling something that was clearly meant only to be worn externally as jewelry, is debatable. I suspect the adult provisions in these laws have more to do with the fact that today stupidity is profitable and benefits the legal profession, than with controlling potentially harmful substances.
And it seems a pity that in order to protect ourselves from lawsuits, we should be forced to put scary warnings on something meant to bring beauty and joy to our lives.