Those tainted Chinese products

I wanted to post the top of this page one story from the WSJ for few reasons. For one, Rebecca was up to 3 am Friday night/Saturday morning working on it, so I’m all for drawing some attention its way. But more importantly, I thought it was really important story.

I think that Mattel backpedaled from this apology the next day, though I haven’t really had a chance to follow that up. But I think it’s really enlightening and worth noting how this illustrates the degree to which China seems to be becoming a scapegoat and whipping boy for anything and everything that goes wrong.

I think it is the company’s responsibility to ensure that their products are safely designed and properly built and if they can’t do that in China, they should figure it out and move on. But the fact is, they can do it in China, if they consider it important enough to do so. A lot of firms juts look for the lowest price, don’t do due diligence and don’t stay on top of their contracted factories.

I was really blown away when home this summer by how much anti-China feelings have been pumped up, in part I think by some pretty heavy handed, slanted coverage. So many friends and relatives commented on the “tainted products” problem. I was in Randall’s in Sq. Hill when a guy came in and asked for “anything not made in China.” It is not an unreasonable request, but I really do think that people need to look back to the companies selling the product – and making agreements here based solely on lowest price. And also to take a look at themselves and consider their own drive for the lowest price.

People get upset if a product comes out of here that kills Fifi, or threatens Madison –and they should. But they don’t give a shit if their $39 patio set at Wal Mart dumps a ton of mercury into the Yangtze. I am speaking in broad generalizations and I understand that. I’m just trying to make a point. American consumers and corporations own a big chunk of the pollution being crated here, and the primary victims of it are 1.2 billion Chinese. The secondary victims are the rest of the world.

All of this is serious and real and needs to be thought about and discussed. But just blaming lack Chinese standards doesn’t move the ball very far and succeeds in casting all blame off of American shoulders. And I think that’s wrong.

Mattel Seeks to Placate China With Apology on Toys

September 22, 2007

Mattel Inc. made a public apology to China for damage to the country’s reputation stemming from a spate of toy recalls. It was an extraordinary attempt to placate Mattel’s most important supplier, but it is likely to shift the spotlight to the company’s own responsibility in the crisis.

In its apology, the world’s largest toy maker said that its own “design flaw” was responsible for by far the biggest recall, involving nearly 18 million playsets studded with potentially dangerous magnets. While soothing China’s pride, the admission could make Mattel a target in lawsuits.

“I can’t think of any other instance where” a major toy company “has actually come out with such a public announcement of a defect,” said Andrew Krulwich, a former general counsel for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission who now practices at Wiley Rein LLP.

Chinese officials have ratcheted up criticism recently of Mattel and U.S. regulators, believing they are putting too much blame on China in the recent recalls of toys and other Chinese-made products. Mattel’s apology is a reminder that U.S. companies dependent on business in China offend Beijing’s communist rulers at their peril.

And then further down, this key part:

As recently as this week, Mattel Chief Executive Robert Eckert told Congress that the company’s “standards were ignored, and our rules were broken” at Chinese plants.

By the numbers, however, the vast majority of the recalled toys didn’t have any lead problem. The biggest recall, affecting 18 million toys, involves tiny magnets that can fall off toys and be deadly if swallowed. The recall of those toys, Mattel is now stressing, had nothing to do with a failure of Chinese manufacturing but rather stemmed from Mattel’s own flawed designs for everything from Barbie accessories to Batman action figures.

You can read the rest of the story here:

1 reply
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your insights – when talking to Becky at Joan’s house this summer, I sensed a look in her eyes when this subject came up. I now have a much better understanding why – lots of things I had just not thought about – it all makes more sense to me.


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