Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mattel In China

The problem is not with China but with the outsourcing by American Corporations who then do not take responsibility for either worker or consumer protection for their products as the Mattel recalls showed this summer.

The fact is production in China is no different than production anywhere else. It is the corporations responsibility to insure safety standards are met both for workers and consumers. Instead cheap production has also meant a lowering of those standards.

In order to avoid responsibility for recalls the corporations, and the ineffectual Consumer Protection Agency in the U.S. would rather blame China.

Twenty years of the ideology of contracting out/outsourcing for profit meant that corporations relied on making record profits from lower standards abroad for quicker and higher profits. Now the chickens come home to roost. And again as typical of corporate bosses they look for others to blame.

Mattel did not meet safety standards for it's products and spent the summer allowing the blame to fall on China.

"China has received a lot of blame for the recalls in the West," said Hari Bapuji, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada and lead author of the report, "Toy Recalls -- Is China the Problem?"

"They do have problems, there is no doubt. But I think the blame they received was larger than their share of their responsibility for the problem."

This paper analyzes the data on toy recalls over the last 20 years and
finds that the number of recalls and the number of recalls of Chinese-made
toys have witnessed an upward trend. We examine the increase closely and
find that the number of defects attributable to design issues is much higher than those attributable to manufacturing problems. We contextualize these findings in light of the latest recall of toys by Mattel and make two major suggestions: first, ensuring the accountability of toy companies to improve their product designs and second, encouraging the development of global standards to enhance product safety.

Our analysis of toy recalls revealed that an overwhelming majority of the recalls
could have been avoided with better designs. Therefore, it is important to focus efforts on learning from the recalls that occurred in the past and minimize their recurrence. Our analysis also revealed that the presence of excess lead paint is a result of differences in the standards of exporting and importing country. These could be avoided through legislation and education.

Mattel HQ
Mattel says it was mainly to blame
Mattel has admitted that most of the toys recalled in recent safety scares had "design flaws" and that Chinese manufacturers were not to blame.

Why Mattel Apologized to China - TIME

BBC NEWS | Business | Chinese province 'may sue Mattel'

China's Guangdong province is likely to join a planned libel suit against the US toy giant Mattel, according to the China Daily.

Mattel recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys this summer, but later said that 85% of the recall was due to its own design faults.

Responsible Shopper Profile: Mattel


By Stephen Frost and May Wong

Recently the Asia Monitor Resource Center published a report which assessed the way in which Mattel monitors its code of conduct. We called it Monitoring Mattel: Codes of conduct, workers and toys in southern China, and in it we tried to show the limitations inherent in the implementation and monitoring of codes in China (and perhaps elsewhere). We discussed many issues, but here I want to raise three of our major themes.

The first is that a chasm separates what we might call corporate Mattel and production line Mattel. The second theme, arising out of this, is that Chinese workers do not have a voice in the formulation, implementation, or monitoring of Mattel's code of conduct. The final theme is that despite some major steps on Mattel's behalf, there is still some way to go before the code and its monitoring could be called transparent.

Strengthening of Consumer Agency Opposed by Its Boss - New York Times

The top official for consumer product safety has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation that would strengthen the agency that polices thousands of consumer goods, from toys to tools.

On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.

Ms. Nord opposes provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.

The measure is an effort to buttress an agency that has been under siege because of a raft of tainted and dangerous products manufactured both domestically and abroad. In the last two months alone, more than 13 million toys have been recalled after tests indicated lead levels of almost 200 times the safety ceiling.

Ms. Nord’s opposition to key elements of the legislation is consistent with the broadly deregulatory approach of the Bush administration. In a variety of areas, from antitrust to trucking and worker safety, officials appointed by President Bush have sought to reduce the role of regulation and government in the marketplace.

Nord clinging to her job as head of commission amid dangerous toy recalls

Nord also told a House Energy and Commerce panel that she did no wrong by accepting three free trips from industry worth thousands of dollars, saying it had been common agency practice with approval from CPSC attorneys.

“This practice, not common by me, is legal ... and was in place for 20 years, long before I came to the commission,” she told lawmakers who questioned her independence.

“Faced with limited enforcement dollars,” Nord said, “I would much rather spend $900 in a laboratory than on airfare and hotel.”

Profits valued over children's safety


WASHINGTON-- It's a national embarrassment.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission is ordinarily not a controversial agency -- it is so small it operates largely in obscurity. But it has suddenly become a public outrage, a symbol of the Bush administration's cavalier attitude toward the public good when it conflicts with big business interests.

We have always known this is President Bush's basic notion of how to govern, but up to now we had seldom been hit smack in the face with it. The acting chairman of the CPSC, Nancy Nord, testified recently on Capitol Hill that the commission opposed congressional efforts to expand the agency's budget and powers in order to get a handle on tainted toys and other products flooding the U.S. from China.

Her indifference to the threat from lead-contaminated toys and other consumer items created a firestorm. It forced the administration to rush forth with an alternative plan that had been languishing for months. That plan would set up a system allowing most industries to police themselves but add more inspectors for companies with particularly dangerous products or bad safety records.

It is, predictably, far more limited in scope and authority than the congressional plan. But it will temporarily serve the administration's purpose of muddying the issue.

The decline of the CPSC is a shame. Congress proposed the agency at the peak of the consumer movement in the late 1960s, when the country was rebelling against the traditional concept of caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware. The public was tired of business getting away with shoddy practices and shoddy goods.

The major champion of the cause, Ralph Nader, was listed in a magazine as one of the nation's 10 "most admired" men and consumerism enjoyed support across political and philosophical lines. But then Nader, full of himself, made a major mistake. He endorsed the 1972 presidential candidacy of George McGovern and dragged his cause to the far left. As a consumer crusader, he was popular; as a potential presidential candidate, he was a disaster.

(And still is -- Democrats loathe him because his pitiful 2000 candidacy got just enough votes to do in Vice President Al Gore in Florida's tight contest. Yet he recently mused that he would like to run for president again next year because he saw no difference between GOP and Democratic principles. The man is an egomaniac.)

Meanwhile, the CPSC continues its drastic fall. Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, have made several trips around the world on junkets financed by the industries they are supposed to be regulating.

Nord rejected the congressional offer of more money and authority. She warned that the bill "would harm product safety and put the American people at greater risk."

Nord's logic seems a little nutty.

The bill would increase the agency's budget from $63 million to $142 million by 2015 and increase its staff by 20 percent. It would raise the cap on penalties for safety violations from $1.8 million to $100 million, ban lead in kids' products and make it illegal to sell recalled goods. It would add whistleblower protections.

But she is used to viewing the world from the one-sided viewpoint of business. She is a lawyer who worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and in private practice for clients such as General Electric and other leading manufacturers and retailers.

Her agency is responsible for overseeing more than 15,000 types of products. But it has only 400 staffers, fewer than half the number when the agency was formally established in 1973. It has only one full-time toy tester.

The CPSC has been without a chair for more than a year. In March, Bush nominated Michael Baroody, a manufacturing industry lobbyist, to become chairman. He withdrew his name two months later rather than reveal his severance agreement with the National Association of Manufacturers.

Democrats are now calling for Nord to resign. She is certainly in an inappropriate job. But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., warned that if she leaves, Bush might just forget to replace her and leave the commission rudderless and helpless. That seems to have been Bush's goal all along. To get real consumer protection, we will have to wait for a Democratic president.

Marianne Means is a Washington, D.C., columnist with Hearst Newspapers. Copyright 2007 Hearst Newspapers.


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