Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Mattel grovels to China

Mattel has issued a mea culpa and apologized to Bejing (1) for suggesting China produced shoddy, dangerous toys. It turns out - apparently - that the fault lay with Mattel all along:
"Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys," Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president for worldwide operations, told Li. (2)
This isn't quite the same as saying China doesn't produce shoddy, dangerous toys, of course, rather it suggests that the shoddy, dangerous toys aren't in breach of Mattel's safety standards, as suggested previously.

The vast majority of the toys recalled were due to design flaws - the tiny, swallowable magnets that can tear children's stomachs to pieces (3) - but there were some two million units (4) recalled because of use of lead based paint. Though Mattel said the recall of the latter had been "overly inclusive" (5) (murdered English for "too many") they didn't say how many were dangerous and how many weren't. Meanwhile, the role-call of products being recalled continues: "On Friday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced it is recalling 1 million cribs made in China and marketed under American brand names, due to a potentially lethal safety problem." (6)

A cynical voice in my head wonders if - now that the PRC has been found Not Guilty by Mattel, will the new safety standards the company promised be quietly forgotten? An even more cynical voice wonders if the safety standards will be forgotten because someone in Bejing pointed out that Mattel needs China far more than China needs Mattel.

The bottom line is this. Whether or not Chinese manufactured goods violated safety standards in this instance, there have been innumerable instances when they have been in breach, sometimes fatally. There will be more breaches in the future as contracors stuggle to deliver orders as cheaply as possible -they want to make money on the deals as much as the brand name companies placing the orders do. You can not care about the human rights of peons making consumer good dirt cheap so you can enjoy a higher standard of living in the West, but if your toothpaste is going to kill you, it is more piquant.
1 - "Mattel apologizes to China over recalls," unattributed Associated Press article on MSNBC, 21s September, 2007. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20903731/)
2- ibid.
3 - "Additional Reports of Magnets Detaching from Polly Pocket Play Sets Prompts Expanded Recall by Mattel," product recall notice from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 14th of August, 2007. (
http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml07/07273.html)
4 - "Mattel and China Differ on Apology," by Renae Merle and Ylan Q. Mui in the Washington Post, 22nd of September, 2007. (
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/21/AR2007092100330.html?hpid=topnews)
5 - ibid.
6 - "Why Mattel Must Save Face With China," by Daniel Gross, in Forbes, 24th of September, 2007. (
http://www.forbes.com/home/manufacturing/2007/09/21/china-trade-mattel-biz-manufacturing-cx_newsweek_0921gross.html)

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