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Could Toy Recalls Become the Grinch That Steals Christmas?

Sep 6, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP More toy recalls could be on the horizon – just in time for the holiday shopping season.  The Consumer Products Safety Commission is currently conducting several investigations into defective toys, and it’s a good bet that at least some of these probes will result in further recalls of dangerous toys.  That’s not good news for parents gearing up to play Santa Claus, who will no doubt be worried that the toys under the tree this year could seriously hurt their children.

This year it has seemed as though toy recalls have occurred at an almost weekly rate.  Mattel – perhaps the most trusted toy maker in the business – has issued three separate recalls since August 1.   The latest involved 11 different toys – including Barbie accessories – that had high levels of lead.   Back on August 15, Mattel recalled nearly 10 million dangerous toys, some for lead and others because they contained magnets that could come loose and cause intestinal injuries if children swallowed them.   August started with Mattel’s Fisher-Price Division recalling over a 1 million Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street and other preschool toys for lead paint.

Of course, Mattel hasn’t been the only manufacturer to issue toy recalls this year.  Last week, Toys ‘R’ Us recalled coloring kits because of hazardous amounts of lead.  Last month, lead paint also caused the recall of Curious George and Thomas and Friends toys sold by Schylling Associates, Inc.  In June, RC2 had to recall more than 1 million of its Thomas and Friends trains for the same reason.  The mounting number of recalls has a lot of caregivers worried, and more recalls could mean a big hit on holiday sales.

But more toy recalls are not out of the question.   All of the toys recalled this summer were made in China – a country that has developed a questionable manufacturing reputation. Tires, toothpaste, dog food and other children’s toys were just a few of the Chinese products recalled for defects or contamination in the past several months.  Many analysts say the fast-growing and unregulated Chinese economy has created an environment that encourages cheap and shoddy manufacturing.  And they say that US companies contribute to the problem, by demanding that Chinese factories produce goods as cheaply as possible.

The fact that a reputable company like Mattel could still end up distributing dangerous Chinese toys is evidence that the problems in China are deep rooted.  Mattel holds it subcontractors to strict guidelines regarding production, treatment of workers and workplace conditions.  For instance, Mattel’s subcontractors are required to purchase paint from certain certified suppliers.  In the case of the subcontractors that manufactured some of the recalled toys, this rule was not followed.  Mattel said that it is working to find out why.

China has taken steps in the last few weeks to improve its manufacturing image, and it recently implemented its own recall laws.  And companies like Mattel are developing new inspection systems that they hope will keep hazardous toys off the market.  But no one knows if these safety improvements will end the seeming-endless parade of toy recalls in time for holiday shopping.

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