I wrote several weeks ago about a case for Mattel apologizing to the Chinese manufacturers. In particular, I highlighted the fact that US companies often share some of the responsibility for negligence.
Today, an article in the New York Times titled Lessons Even Thomas Could Learn really hits that point home.
After all of the egregious recalls over lead in the paint, many US residents had lost confidence in toys — many of which are manufactured in China:
…by September â€” with Mattel recalling millions of toys â€” lead paint seemed to be the norm for the toy industry. As Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst, said in a front-page article in this newspaper, â€œIf I went down the shelves of Wal-Mart and tested everything, Iâ€™m going to find serious problems.â€
NY Times reporters wanted to discover just how true that claim was. They went out of their way to buy toys that had red and yellow paint — often more likely to contain lead than other colors — toys made in China and other countries with less regulation, and toys stocked by Wal-Mart and lesser-known retailers. Then they got the toys tested for lead.
The surprising result? None of the 50 toys had lead levels beyond what US law permits. That means that the lead problems weren’t some epidemic problem among toy manufacturers (including toy manufacturers in China) — rather, the US toy companies in the recalls weren’t practicing due diligence. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone who is quick to point the finger at China:
The companies involved in the recent recalls arenâ€™t simply the unlucky ones that got caught. Either out of carelessness or a misplaced cost-cutting zeal, they are the ones that didnâ€™t make the effort to keep their toys safe.
When Ms. Nordquist first had her toy-chewing, 17-month old daughter tested for lead this year, the results showed that she had more lead in her blood than any parent should want. When the girl was retested recently, months after the Thomas trains had been put out of her reach, the level had fallen significantly. Two tests prove nothing, Ms. Nordquist notes, but they are enough to make a mother angry.
I called Curtis W. Stoelting, RC2â€™s chief executive, and Peter J. Henseler, its president, to ask why parents should have faith that RC2â€™s new safety measures would work better than its old ones. Neither executive called me back. Instead, representatives from two public relations agencies working for RC2 sent me a memo that almost hilariously avoided most of my questions.
Ms. Nordquist had a similar experience. After mailing her recalled trains to RC2 and enclosing a letter requesting a refund, she received an e-mail message signed, â€œConsumer Services.â€ It didnâ€™t acknowledge her refund request but promised that replacement trains were on the way. The message also thanked her for the trust she had placed in Thomas.
â€œI guess you didnâ€™t bother to read the letter I enclosed,â€ Ms. Nordquist wrote back. â€œAny trust I had with your firm is gone. I do not want any replacements. I want a refund. You have endangered my children.â€
I find it particularly telling how RC2’s PR team dodged the real issues in their response. Isn’t that something we often tend to blame China for — that is, a lack of transparency and a general tendency to avoid responsibility? Yet here you have it, a US company who can’t even admit they’re wrong, and has the hubris to think they can get away with this and still remain successful in the marketplace.
Before we chastise China as the root of all manufacturing evils, we’d better think about the US and other companies who are quite often the ones “pulling the strings” up top.