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Another Mattel recall makes three

Scott Jagow Sep 5, 2007

Another Mattel recall makes three

Scott Jagow Sep 5, 2007


Scott Jagow: Toymaker Mattel has announced a third recall of toys made in China. This time, the company is pulling about 800,000 toys, most of them Barbie accessories. Also included, some toy trains and something called the 6-in-1 Bongo Band. Mattel has now recalled more than 21 million toys made in China in about the last month. Joining us now is Christopher Devereux. He runs a company that matches companies with factories in China. Christopher, can you please tell me what’s going on here?

Christopher Devereux: It’s a good question. I mean Mattel is a company that has 20,000 direct or indirect employees in the Pearl River delta, where all these recalls are coming from. What I don’t understand is what’s happened to their quality control system because they should be checking all of these products before they leave China and obviously this is not happening.

Jagow: Well how exactly does this work? What is the process for finding a factory that will produce products that are safe?

Devereux: Well first of all, the companies that actually come to China, they have to have set up their own quality control system and I just don’t understand how all these products they have failed to check absolute basics. I mean this thing of lead in the paint has been around, the legislation for toys, has been around for 30 years and suddenly it’s popping up now that they haven’t bothered to actually check random samples throughout their product line.

Jagow: So it sounds like you’re putting all the onus on the American companies here.

Devereux: I mean there are a lot of Western products that are being made in China of which the actual people on the manufacturing floor haven’t got a clue how the product is used so you must have very good specifications of what you expect of the product and you must have the ability to do testing and random checks all the way through.

Jagow: So what do you think Mattel needs to do exactly? Is this just a manpower issue?

Devereux: Well they’ve got to overhaul their entire quality control system to find out first of all why these things happened and make sure they don’t happen again.

Jagow: All right Christopher thank you for joining us.

Devereux: My pleasure.

Jagow: Christopher Devereux is managing director of ChinaSavvy.

Doug Krizner: Let’s bring in Tom Mitchell of Financial Times in Hong Kong. Tom, what is the manufacturing situation like in China?

Tom Mitchell: Well they’re dealing with an awful, awful lot of factories. To call it a wasteland is probably not too strong a word for it. You think about worker dormitories, just very sort of an anonymous landscape of factory buildings. The problem is that companies like Mattel, not only are they using contractors, but these contractors in turn have subcontractors and those guys have sub-subcontractors and just trying to trace all the products through what’s become a very complex system is incredibly difficult.

Krizner: What’s the consequence in terms of the PR campaign now that the Chinese government’s going to be faced with?

Mitchell: Well it was always going to be a hard campaign at the start. This obviously doesn’t make it any easier. You know but on the other hand, there’s an argument to be made by some that this is not only China’s fault. Some responsibility does have to lie, they would argue, with the manufacturers who are contracting this stuff and they would say it’s part of their responsibility to keep an eye on products that they’re manufacturing. Now of course Mattel and others who’ve made the recalls say ‘well you know we’re doing exactly that, finding these problems and announcing them and making the recalls.’

Krizner: With the people that you’re speaking to, what do they believe is the biggest, nightmarish kind of situation or scenario?

Mitchell: There’s no doubt that they’re panicking. They’re just hoping that this rash of cases is going to stop. I don’t think anyone is talking seriously now about any kind of wholescale defection from China. You’re just not going to move 80 percent of the world’s toy production back to the North Pole.

Krizner: Tom Mitchell is South China correspondent for the Financial Times in Hong Kong. Tom, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mitchell: Not at all, thank you.

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