Mattel Recalls More Chinese-Made Toys
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Government regulators recalled more than 9 million Chinese-made Mattel toys yesterday, hitting some of the company's most popular lines, including Barbie and Batman action figures.
The toy company blamed most of the recall on design flaws that could allow small magnets in some of its products to come loose. Mattel also said that one of its Chinese subcontractors subverted its safety standards and used lead-based paint on promotional toys for the movie "Cars."
"I am publicly apologizing to parents," said Robert A. Eckert, Mattel's chairman and chief executive. "What we can assure parents is that we are doing something about it."
This is Mattel's second major recall this month and the third time since June that Chinese firms have been blamed for using lead-based paint, which is banned in the United States, on children's toys. It spurred an immediate call from some in Congress to tighten controls on products imported from China, the source of 80 percent of the toys sold in the United States. About 65 percent of Mattel's toys are from China.
Mattel said 18 million of the products, which include Barbie and Tanner play sets, and Doggie Day Care and Batman magnetic action figures, were targeted for recall globally, including the 9 million covered under the U.S. order.
The latest recall is expected to complicate China's efforts to fight being branded a major source of unsafe products after recent reports of tainted toothpaste and seafood. China has reacted by cracking down on its own manufacturers and launching an effort to assure the American public that its products are safe. After Chinese authorities banned the manufacturer alleged to have used lead-based paint on more than 1 million toys that Mattel recalled two weeks ago, the head of the company was found dead, apparently having hanged himself.
Saying that the recall was not an isolated incident, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) renewed a call to test Chinese toys before they arrive in the United States. "We're about to enter into a holiday season. To avoid the obvious consumer concerns, we have to do something dramatic," he said in an interview. "American families should not have to play Chinese roulette when they go to a toy store."
Consumer Product Safety Commission officials said the agency began discussions with the $22 billion toy industry last month on the establishment of a third-party testing system. A Toy Industry Association official said it was too early to comment on the proposal.
"The CPSC is dedicated to keeping all consumers safe, but does act swiftly and speaks loudly when it affects the most vulnerable population: our children," said Nancy A. Nord, acting chairman of the commission.
Mattel said the hazards were found during a review of its toy-manufacturing process launched in July after it found that one of its Chinese manufacturers was using lead-based paint on some of its products, including toys shaped like Big Bird, Elmo and Dora the Explorer. That led to a recall earlier this month. The review is ongoing and could lead to more recalls, company officials said.
"Consumers understand that no system is perfect," Eckert said, adding that Mattel can assure parents that the company is working to improve the system.
Mattel's stock fell 57 cents yesterday, or 2.4 percent, to $23 a share, even as the company launched a major public-relations offensive, including publishing full-page ads in several newspapers. The company will be under scrutiny during the short term but can regain consumer confidence by following through on tighter controls, said Chris Byrne, an independent toy industry consultant. "Clearly the systems that have worked well in the past don't work well anymore," he said.