China Points Finger At Mattel For Toy RecallAug 27, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
China again attempted to deflect blame onto Mattel for the recent toy recalls that have worsened the country’s already-questionable manufacturing reputation. An official from China’s General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine defended the country’s manufacturers, saying that faulty American designs and were responsible for the toy recalls.
On August 1, Mattel recalled millions of toys made in China. That recall included 9 million magnetic play sets where the small magnets could come loose and cause serious intestinal injuries in children if swallowed. The same action also recalled 436,000 die-cast toy cars from Mattel’s “Cars” line because paint used on the toys contained excessive amounts of lead. Earlier this month, Mattel’s Fisher-Price division recalled more than a million toys because they were also made with lead paint. That recall encompassed more than 80 different toys and toy sets, and included toys based on characters from popular TV shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants.
Li Changjiang, director of the Chinese agency, insisted that most of the blame for the toy recall rested with Mattel. “About 85 percent were directly designed by the American company,” Li said, “and produced according to requirements of the American importer.” Li alleged that serious design flaws are what made most of the toys dangerous, not the methods that Chinese factories used to make the toys. Li also said that the number of toys involved in the recall were only a tiny fraction of the estimated 22 billion toys made in China each year. That, Li insisted, was further proof that Mattel’s designs, and not manufacturing practices, had made the toys dangerous.
Critics of US companies have also said that corporations like Mattel bear some of the blame for recalls of imported goods. Most companies choose to have products made in China because manufacturing costs are a fifth of what they would be in the US. According to an article in Forbes magazine, if adjusted for inflation, toy prices are actually lower than they were 40 years ago. In order to keep profits high, Mattel and others pressure Chinese factories to produce goods as cheaply as possible. It is not surprising that many Chinese producers meet such demands by using substandard components and cutting other corners.
Li’s comments were the latest Chinese effort to restore confidence in the “Made in China” label. In the past several months, pet food, tires, toothpaste and even fresh ginger imported from China have been recalled due to dangerous defects. In other countries, Chinese-made medicine and clothing have also proven defective. As a result of the bad publicity, China has been working feverishly to rehabilitate its soiled reputation. This month, the country’s Cabinet took several steps to improve China’s safety regulations. The government has also closed several manufacturing plants that made shoddy goods, and arrested many individuals for their role in the recall scandals.