One would think that a company that makes children’s toys, considering the high-risk nature of their products and considering the thousands of safety standards in place for toys, would be very, very careful about the toys they put on the market. One would, perhaps, think that! Well Mattel has certainly proved otherwise. Mattel is recalling more — many more — toys that they had produced using Chinese manufacturing companies.
Just last week it was Elmo and Big Bird who suffered the indignities of being pulled right out of the little hands of the children who have learned to love those Sesame Street characters — there were other recalls last week but those were the high-profile ones. Now some of these same children are losing Sarge cars, Doggie Daycare toys, Polly Pocket toys, Batman toys, Barbie and Tanner play sets and over 18 million magnetic toys with magnets that are likely to be (and have been) swallowed by young children. Most of the toys are being recalled because the Chinese manufacturer (Hong Li Da) used paint that contains an excessive amount of lead; in the case of the magnetic toys, there have been three reported cases of children who have swallowed more than one magnet and, as a result, required surgery so that the magnets wouldn’t come together and cause damage to or a blockage in to the stomach.
The toy business is an unbelievably competitive business, that’s a given; and Mattel apparently felt that they needed the edge that very inexpensive Chinese labor would give them. They are entitled to a competitive edge but they cannot be, and I’m sure will not be, given a pass when they prove themselves irresponsible. The law suits will start soon and Mattel will pay a price.
It bothers me a great deal when any company feels the need to have their product manufactured in China, Taiwan, Mexico or elsewhere because the cost of manufacturing it here in the U.S. is prohibitive, but its a fact of life that as our standard of living increases and as the minimum wage increases and until many more lawmakers in many more states get out of the pockets of labor unions and pass “right to work” legislation, the cost of labor will continue to increase. Mattel apparently felt all those pressure when they contracted with Hong Li Da but then they got greedy. Instead of having thorough (and somewhat costly) quality checks performed on the products they contracted for, they just threw them on the market. For a company the size of Mattel, that shows an unbelievable lack of foresight. They perhaps assumed that Chinese manufacturers with their large pool of cheap labor would follow the rules and perform their own quality control, but Chinese manufacturers are out to save a buck also and Hong Li Da is apparently no exception. They saved a buck (or a few yuan) by purchasing paint that had a more-than-allowed level of lead and by failing to implement an in-house quality control program that would have made sure magnets were attached properly.
Hopefully all of the other U.S. companies who outsource will take the lesson offered at Mattel’s expense and, if they must outsource, at least do it responsibly.
Chicago Tribune: Mattel recalls 18 million toys
Houston Chronicle: Simpler toys for simpler joys
Business Week (Jan. ’06): The Future Of Outsourcing
From the blogosphere:
Fussbucket: Mattel RECALL (again)