(Feb. 8, 2008) — I have to take issue with some of the things that Steve Toloken mentioned in his Viewpoint about Chinese-made toys [“Toy makers reaping what they have sown,” Feb. 4, Page 6].
First, the recent issues have had nothing to do with quality. Rather, the concern has been about the features of the toys.
Take the lead paint issue. All the toys had lead paint and probably had very nice, consistent finishes. Therefore, the quality of the paint job was not the issue. It was the fact that it was lead paint: a feature of the toy.
Confusing quality, in this case the piece-to-piece uniformity of toys, with features is a common error. Why, I don't know.
The real problem here is that through oversight, mistake or deliberate inaction, the U.S. toy importers did not catch the lead paint. This, I believe, is predominantly because of the drive for profits through the reduction of expenses — in this case, specifications and quality-control procedures.
If you don't tell the factory anything other than “paint this red,” why would you not expect that factory to source the least-expensive material to meet that demand? Even if someone there raised the lead-paint-and-kids issue, well, hell, the toys are going to be exported, so it's not like we'd be endangering any of OUR kids.
I'm not slamming the Chinese here. Similar nationalistic thinking prevails everywhere. Otherwise, for example, why do U.S. companies export banned pesticides to the Third World?
Similarly, on this end of the pipeline, does anyone really believe the importers care one iota about the working conditions in that Chinese factory? Having been involved in such domestic-vs.-Chinese sourcing decisions, I can tell you the only concerns were that the parts would “work,” were delivered on time and were the least expensive. The implicit bargain was that the factory would (and could) do what it liked with its workers as long as we got what we wanted. I disagreed with that line of thought and that's one reason why I'm no longer with that company.
My point is that if a “Wal-Mart mentality” is what's driving these business decisions, we can expect continual problems with the features of whatever shows up in the marketplace.