Christmas Lights from China: the Ethics of Illumination

September 11, 2014

Picture Perfect Holiday Lights?

The holiday season is quickly approaching. You’re already picturing the tall pine tree strung with twinkling lights and adorned with your family’s heirloom ornaments. You can see the stacks of presents overtaking the floor space and can nearly smell the Christmas cookies in the oven—ah, the magic of season!

But, then you remember—your lights were dysfunctional last year, and you’d spent hours trying to fix them by replacing those tiny fuses. Several bulbs had cracked during the repair attempt. So, finally you had dashed out and bought more Christmas lights at the discount store. But more than half of them had only worked on half of the strand before the holiday was half over! Seemed to you that when stores sell poor quality products it goes against the “reason for the season”—kind of unethical. This year you want quality Christmas lights and you’re wondering:

  • Can any “Made in the USA” Christmas lights be found?
  • Are high quality Christmas lights being made in China?
  • Where can you get them?

What does “Made in the USA” really mean?

“Made in the USA” means different things to different people or companies using the phrase. Some companies mean that all parts are from U.S. suppliers and all steps of manufacturing are done in the United States. Regrettably, others will claim to have “Made in the USA” products, but mean that they obtain the components from China (or a foreign source) and then assemble one part (or just add one screw) in the U.S. In terms of Christmas lights, there are currently no manufacturers making Christmas lights in the U.S. and obtaining all parts from American companies. If you find a company that claims that their lights are “Made in the USA,” be careful to ensure that this is true for all components and all stages of the manufacturing process. See our previous article for more information on this.

Even though Christmas lights were invented and manufactured in the United States in the 1920s, that changed in the late 1960s when American manufacturers began losing business to foreign competitors who could make the lights for less money. Americans, at that point, simply wanted to purchase the products for the cheapest possible price. Manufacturing Christmas lights involves many processes that simply have to be done manually and cannot be automated. So, countries that had cheap manual labor began to dominate the market and eventually American manufacturers went out of business.

High Quality Christmas Lights are Being Made in China

Let’s look first at what most consumers mean when they’re talking about quality Christmas lights. Typically, they want to know that the lights will last, that the lights are easy to maintain, that the lights that won’t break soon and be piling up in our landfills, that the lights are safe, and that the lights are from suppliers with excellent work conditions.

Consumers wanting quality lights will need to shop places other than the local discount store. LED Christmas lights win out over incandescents for durability, safety, energy efficiency, and long term cost effectiveness.

Photo Credit: Underwriters Laboratories

Lights with UL certification from the Underwriters Laboratories should be sought. This certification will ensure that the product itself, and the systems to manufacture it, had to meet specific standards in “performance, environmental health and sustainability.” Underwriter’s Laboratory is the primary safety standards body in the U.S. for consumer electronics certification. This certification means that you don’t have to worry about hazardous, toxic chemicals or unsafe products with UL certified lights. All premium grade lights by Holiday LED are UL certified.

Another certification is even more stringent than UL—CSA Certification. Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certification on Christmas lights will ensure a level of durability and product quality that surpasses lights in stores and most lights sold by retailers. This certification means that the products are tested, and that specific standards are developed by CSA for those products. For Christmas lights to pass the CSA certification, they must be of a higher quality than those in stores and passing other certification tests. CSA testing is done in colder, harsher climates and a heavier gauge wire is required to pass. All of Holiday LEDs commercial grade, professional grade and retrofit bulbs are CSA certified.

Components in Holiday LED bulbs should also be RoHS compliant (Restriction of Hazardous Substances)—showing that they have been tested and are either free of or meet strict safety standards for levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diaphenyl.

Look for Christmas lights that have earned the Energy Star. The presence of the Energy Star on appliances, electronics, light bulbs and products means that the products have been independently tested and have met strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It also means a superior product. Energy Star Certified Christmas lights last longer, have exceptional performance, and reduce costs of utility bills.

Lights Out for our Landfills

Recycling programs are available for lights that are old or faulty. Companies that have concern for environmental issues will see that the products sent are of a high quality and not ready for the landfill after a short use. They will also offer recycling programs for any of your previous lights, no matter where you bought them.

Excellence in Work Conditions

When searching for options for quality LED Christmas lights, look for retailers whose suppliers have exemplary work conditions. These suppliers have willingly gone through an extensive process to demonstrate a positive work environment and work relationships. They meet FLA compliance.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is considered the most advanced international labor compliance program. Companies must demonstrate, over a two to three year period (with performance reviews thereafter), their compliance to FLA’s Workplace Code of Conduct throughout all stages in their supply chain. The Code of Conduct prohibits any unhealthy labor situations, and values mutual respect in the employment relationship.

Holiday LEDs purchases only from suppliers that have met the highest standards for compliance with the FLA. But it goes beyond mere compliance. Frankly, we have wonderful relationships with our suppliers in China, built through the years on friendship and mutual trust.

What does this mean for your Christmas?

It means that while you can’t buy Christmas lights Made in the USA, you can buy quality Christmas lights from a U.S. company with the highest quality suppliers in China. It means a picture perfect tree—without the frustration of dealing with faulty strands that won’t always work.

Consider buying lights from a source you can trust. See our options for LED Christmas lights for your holiday. Contact us with questions about our products or company.