Cheat-Seeking Missles

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's Wednesday. Do You Know Where Your Children's Lead Is?

If you're a Mattel toy buyer, you do in fact know this Wednesday where your children's now recalled lead-painted dolls came from, but count your blessings that you do.

Nearly a week following Mattel's recall of Elmo, Dora the Explorer and Prince Diego dolls (that's the prince in the photo), Mattel has finally disclosed where the dolls were made: the Lee Der Industrial Co., located in Guangdong province, reports WSJ.

The article (subscribers only) explains that while the name of factories and paint suppliers are critical information for consumer safety, they are not automatically disclosed as part of a recall, presumably to protect private information from hungry competitors.

As consumers, knowing that Lee Der Industrial has lax and dangerous manufacturing processes doesn't do us much good, but if you're a company that's buying painted goods from China, it is essential information that Mattel was keeping from you.
"Everyone is trying to find out which paint supplier is getting into trouble, because once they know, they can try to stay away from that supplier," said Lawrence Chan, the chairman of the Hong Kong Toys Council, an industry group. He said toy company officials are also interested in identifying not only the factory that produced the toys for Mattel, but the paint supplier as well.
Mattel's silence isn't the least bit unusual.
In at least 25 lead recalls involving children's products this year, retailers and toy makers declined to publicly identify factories where problematic toys were made in recall notices released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Instead, the toy industry said it circulates such facts through informal channels to a select few in its own ranks, people familiar with the matter said.
If that works, I'm fine with it. Not every aspect of business needs to be regulated by government; in fact, self-regulation can work much better if there is enough fear and consequence to ensure compliance.

The larger problem here isn't disclosure at this end, it's regulation at the other end; not self-regulation, because China is the Wild West of manufacturing, but strict, effective and evenly applied state regulation.

We've already let China kill our pets with its sloppy manufacturing oversight and apparently nonexistent ethics and now we've caught them putting lead paint on our children's toys. But we are focusing on the number of days it took Mattel to disclose instead of the number of times China has threatened or harmed our people.

Each time this happens, there are consequences here and consequences for a company and a couple managers there, but China itself pays no price. Can we expect a country with a morality far different (lower) than ours to fix itself unless pain is inflicted? Of course not!

It's time to consider an Olympic boycott unless China gets its human rights act, its environmental protection act, and its manufacturing standards act together.

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