Thursday, 2 August 2007

Fisher-Price recalls toys

Fisher Price has recalled a swathe of toys, because of concerns about the lead content in the paint. Three guesses where the toys were made ... Yup, you're right:

Mr Allmark said the recall was troubling because Fisher-Price has had a long-standing relationship with the Chinese vendor, which had applied decorative paint to the toys.

He said the company would use this recall as an opportunity to put even better systems in place to monitor vendors whose conduct does not meet Mattel's standards. (1)

First, congratulations to Fisher-Price on a bold attempt to spin the story - welcoming the discover that their safety standards aren't up to the job as "an opportunity to put even better systems in place" is heroic in its effrontry. I don't think these "even better systems" will stop this sort of thing happening again, though.

There have been plenty of stories like this recently, and also stories about the grisly conditions of workers in China. I think the out-sourced chickens are coming home to roost. The Western world shipped a significant portion of its manufacturing base to the third world to exploit cheaper labour (Marx was right, Marx was right!) and out-sourced the production to nebulous 'vendors' to reduce expenses even more. These vendors were entrusted with delivering the product as cheaply as possible, and because the work had been passed on to a third party, it was easy for the Western companies and consumers to feign ignorance as to what was going on in the factories where their goods were made. Brutal working hours and conditions, child labour, apalling conditions, non-existent health and safety, no job security, no union rights, physical abuse and sexual abuse, all in the name of cheap baseball mits or Barbie dolls.

We pretended not to know, and when it became to difficult to ignore, we pretended that it was all for their own good. We were helping these people by getting them to make trash for us, cut price. They were better off for it. Otherwise, they'd be scrabbling about in the paddy field and living in miserable poverty. If things are so bad, why are people queuing up to work in these places ... and so on. This sort of cant has been heard before, of course. Robert E. Lee, Confederate general and slave-owner, wrote to a letter to his wife, explaining that though slavery was a terrible thing, it was worse for the white slave owners than the black slaves, because the blacks were actually getting more out of the arrangement:

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. (2)

Nowadys the "wise and Merciful Providence" has been replaced by tender and humane market forces.

Ultimately, however, it wasn't really about giving Chinese peasants the chance to better themselves. That was a sop to conscience of consumers in the West who wanted cheap goods but might have felt a little twinge of guilt, giving Ryan his new trike, made in China by someone younger than him. It was a pretty poor sop, but it was enough to let us revel in our cheap goods a while longer, ignoring the fact that our economy is built on weak foundations - cheap foreign labour, massive cheap credit, and environmental degradation. Now, the results of doingings on the cheap and nasty are becoming clearer. We get pet food that kills pets, made in China (3). Toothpaste that kills, made in China (4). Toys coated with paint that could poison our children. We tried to do things cheap and nasty. Why are we surprised that other people follwo our lead? This is why Fisher Price's drive for "even better systems" will fail, because it is contrary to the 'Make money, not safe toys' ethos. Shady vendors in China don't care about the lead content of their paint. They're interested in improving their lives - yes, the out-sourcers were right, if not in quite the way they imagined - by eking as much money as possible out of the deal. If that means paint with high lead content, or bulking up pet food with formaldehyde, that is what will happen. It is the invisible hand of the market, feeding poison back to us.

1 - "Fisher-Price recalls almost 1 million toys," unattributed AP article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1st of August 2007. (
2 - Quotation from a letter from Robert E. Lee to his wife, Mary Anna Lee, dated December 27, 1856. Copied from Wikipedia article, "Lee's views on slavery," viewed 1st of August, 2007. (
3 - "Officials: Pet Food Poison May Have Been Intentional,"By David Kerley and Brian Hartman, ABC News article, April 19th, 2007. (
4- "U.S. seizes tainted toothpaste from China," unattributed Reuters article, with additional reporting by Lisa Richwine and Julie Vorman, 1st June, 2007. (


Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter because you are just growing organs to be sold to the Chinese for transplants under Hillary Care as she was a Walmart director while Gore cultivated the Buddhist nunneries.

lurgee said...

If we do end up being harvested for organs by the Chinese, it would see the fulfillment of H.G. Wells's prophecy in The Time Machine, that the master eventually become the docile cattle of the workers.

I don't think this would be a good thing, but it might happen anyway. To borrow from The King James version of the Bible, "Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:8). We've ploughed or plowed plenty of iniquity, so it will be a bumper harvest. If we treat the third world as one huge industrial estate and bottomless pit of miserable labour, how can we expect them to treat us any differently when their turn comes to wear the boot and smash it in our face? And that time will come.

Soon "Made in the U.S.A." will carry the same hint of misery, exploitation and shoddiness that "Made in china" does today.

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