(Sept. 17, 2007) — China, the United States' new No. 1 source of imports, feels unfairly treated by Western media over the recent rash of recalls.
Voices rise from China's government, media and business communities, arguing that the daunting number of recalled toys buried the fact that flawed design accounted for the majority of affected pieces.
“Only 15 percent of the toy recalls involved lead paint,” a Chinese deputy minister of commerce told the press.
That's true. It's also true that U.S. brand owners and importers should share the blame with their China vendors and factories rather than pushing all the responsibility upstream.
But, is a defect rate of 15 percent acceptable? No, absolutely not.
Because when that 15 percent reaches consumers, it threatens to harm their interests 100 percent.
At the moment, our top priority should not be to divvy up the blame fairly and precisely between the various parties. Rather, we should be focused on reinforcing or even revamping the U.S. system for safety testing and inspection.
The New York-based U.S. Toy Industry Association, representing more than 500 toy makers and importers, has said it supports a federal requirement to make safety testing and inspection mandatory. In Washington, Congress is expected to consider legislation requiring greater testing of goods before they reach U.S. soil, according to the Washington Post.
While questions plague the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission about the effectiveness of its regulatory power, Chinese officials have said a variety of its own agencies — including the Ministry of Commerce, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, and China Customs — are increasing inspections and safety controls.
I was recently at a seminar organized by the Akron (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce, where local manufacturers discussed investing in China as well as bringing Chinese investment to northeast Ohio. One businessman at the seminar brought up China's new requirement of 3C, or China Compulsory Certification. As China steps up regulations for its domestic market, the CCC symbol also is required for exports into the country. Specifically for toys, China began June 1 to mandate six categories of toys, including plastic and metal toys, that need 3C certification before they reach store shelves.
Mattel Chairman and CEO Robert Eckert said in a Sept. 11 commentary in the Wall Street Journal: “Our toys are overwhelmingly safe. To date, our lead-related recalls of toys produced in the past 12 months represent less than half of 1 percent of our production.”
Eckert added he'd rather that number be zero. But is less than 0.5 percent acceptable? Bear in mind, that's the percentage of lead-paint cases. What about additional cases of bad design, a major failure that, so far, has been played down? In Mattel's case, there were 18.2 million pieces with deadly magnets in a single Aug. 14 recall.
Yes, humans make mistakes and no system is perfect. But efforts to minimize error should never be lax.
The U.S., the world's largest consuming power, needs better gatekeepers for all of its imports as well as production at home, to safeguard its consumers.
Nina Ying Sun is a Plastics News staff reporter and Asia specialist.