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Fisher Price Toy Recall Increases Concerns Over Chinese Imports

Aug 3, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

The Fisher Price toy recall extended to Asia today, as the toy maker announced that lead paint was used on some of the toys sold in that market.  The move comes just days after Fisher Price recalled nearly 1 million toys in the US for the same reason.  The Fisher Price recall has raised more concerns about the quality of Chinese imports to the US, and has prompted some in Congress to call for more regulation of products from that country.

Mattel, the parent of Fisher Price, said that two thirds of the recalled toys never made it to stores in the US.  The rest were sold in retail stores between May and August.  Mattel is offering to replace the toys covered under the Fisher Price recall with vouchers for new items. Fisher Price said that a retailer’s audit of some of the toys alerted the company to the problem in early July.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) allowed Fisher Price to delay releasing news of the recall in order to give stores time to remove the toys from their shelves.  

Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and a group of senators sent a letter to the CPSC asking it to examine the possibility of holding all Chinese toys at ports of entry until they can be inspected.  The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently took similar action with Chinese seafood imports after concerns were raised that fish and shrimp from that country could be contaminated with chemicals.  The senators asked the CPSC to reply to the letter within a week.

For its part, Mattel apologized to consumers on Thursday.  The company, which also makes Barbie and Matchbox Cars, said it stopped production of the Fisher Price branded toys at the Chinese factory that produced the 83 toys on the recall list.  Mattel had been using the contractor to make Fisher Price as well as other brands of toys for 15 years, and had never had a problem before.  Mattel owns 50-percent of the factories that make its toys, and subcontracts the rest.  Subcontracting has become business-as-usual in the toy industry, where there is pressure to sell toys at a low cost. But Mattel usually gets high marks for quality in an industry that is often plagued with recalls.  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 subcontractor that manufactured the recalled toys, this rule was not followed.  Mattel said that it is working to find out why.

The fact that a reputable company like Mattel could still end up distributing lead-tainted Chinese toys has only increased concern over Chinese imports.  This year, tires, toothpaste, dog food and other children’s toys were just a few of the Chinese products recalled for defects or contamination.  Many analyst say the fast-growing and unregulated Chinese economy has created an environment that encourages cheap and shoddy manufacturing.  Only recently, and under the glare of publicity, have Chinese officials moved to stem the tide of defective products.   Whether their actions will be enough to restore confidence in the “Made in China” label remains to be seen.


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