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Mattel Apologizes For Toy Recall, As Senate Considers Giving CPSC More Authority

Sep 13, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

The CEO of Mattel, Inc. apologized for recent toys recalls, and made a promise that the company would do everything in its power to insure its toys no longer pose a danger to children.   The apology came during Robert Eckert’s testimony before a Senate committee investigating a recent rash of toy recalls for lead paint and other hazards.   As a result of the recalls, Congress is considering changes to the way product safety is regulated that could include increasing both the funding and authority of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).

Since August 1, Mattel has issued three separate recalls for a total of 21 million toys because they contained either toxic lead paint or dangerous magnets that could cause intestinal injuries in children if swallowed. Robert Eckert was one of several toy industry executives appearing at the hearing.   “Oh behalf of Mattel, I apologize to each and every parent," Eckert said.  “I can’t change the past, but I can change the way we do things.”  Eckert testified that Mattel has already begun using a revamped toy safety inspection system that includes testing batches of paint at factories before they are used on toys, and inspecting finished toys before they are sent to stores.   Other toy executives also testified that they are increasing safety checks to find defective toys before they make it into the hands of children.   Gerald Storch, CEO of Toys ‘R’ Us, told the Senate committee that in addition to increasing inspections, the company was allowing customers to return recalled items to the store even if they were not purchased at Toys ‘R’ Us.  

All of the toy industry representatives who appeared said that they favored greater funding for the CPSC, which has been crippled by personnel and budget cuts over the past several years.  CPSC commissioner Thomas Moore testified that the agency’s budget has declined by 15-percent in the past three years, and that it employs only one full-time toy inspector.  CPSC acting chair Nancy Nord testified that the department’s testing facility in Maryland was so out-of date that it is “not up to code”.

Congress is considering legislation to improve both funding and enforcement powers for the CPSC.  In addition to upping its budget, some have proposed lifting the cap on fines the CPSC can assess companies for not reporting safety problems in a timely manner.  Current law requires that companies report safety issues to the CPSC within 24 hours learning of them, but the maximum fine for violations is under $2 million.  The CPSC recently opened an investigation into the timeliness of Mattel’s recalls, and the company has a history of delaying reports to the CPSC.

But while conceding that the CPSC needs more money and authority, some senators criticized the agency for not being aggressive enough when it comes to product safety.   They pointed to the problem of lead in children’s jewelry as an area where the CPSC has not done enough to protect children.  Lead-tainted children’s jewelry and trinkets have caused serious lead poisoning in at least 7 children in the past 10 years, and was responsible for the death of a Minneapolis child last year.  The CPSC has been trying for several years to eradicate lead in children’s jewelry, with no success.  But only in the last few weeks has the agency actually proposed putting limits on lead in the jewelry.

“It’s not just a matter of providing more money to the agency, more staff at the agency, more and better laboratory buildings,” said Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill).   “There has to be an aggressive attitude at the agency about protecting families and consumers.”


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