First Pet Food, Now Toys; Who is Watching China and American Companies Who Outsource There?
First, American pet owners discovered suddenly and tragically that pet foods manufactured in China contained melamine particles that sickened and even killed cats and dogs in the U.S. Next, we learned that other suspicious foods and health products were being imported from China – foods and products that endangered human health.
Now, the New York Times reports that China is responsible for 60% of all product recalls in the United States (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/19/business/worldbusiness),/. Last year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner yanked 467 products made in China – a new record. And the latest is a real shocker: Thomas & Friends train sets coated with lead paint, which can damage children’s brain cells.
Public outcry may have some impact, as angry parents and government officials flood websites and other media with demands for increased safety enforcement by both Chinese and U.S. officials. After all, as one mom points out, small children put these toys in their mouths. After lawsuits and consumer pressure all but eliminated lead paint from window sills and baby furniture, who could imagine that lead would return in the form of the beloved Thomas the Tank Engine?
But what about the responsibility of Big American Corporations that manufacture and/or import these products at huge profits – much larger than if their toys were produced in the U.S.? Thomas & Friends is marketed by an American company, RC2, which spray-paints the toys in Dongguan, China. Workers at the factory there, who make about $150 a month, told New York Times reporters they didn’t know if the paint they were using contained lead. Another Times reporter was detained by security guards for nine hours after he asked questions about the factory’s operations.
Prescott Carlson, co-founder of a web site called the Imperfect Parent (http://www.imperfectparent.com/) is outraged. He says, “These are items that children are supposed to be playing with. It should be at a point where companies in the United States that are importing these items are held liable.”
Toys made in China make up 70 to 80% of toys sold in the U.S. Yet the Consumer Products Safety Commission admits that the toy industry is mostly self-policed; in other words, even if they have full knowledge of health hazards, unless these companies blow the whistle, public ignorance is bliss. And they are not about to blow the whistle as long as profits soar and stocks skyrocket.
The good news? RC2 is pleased that its stock price has held firm and they are quite proud that no actual deaths or illnesses have been reported. Of course, it takes a while for tiny bodies to absorb the lead, and for the resulting brain damage to be discovered. Once again, choices between profits and safety must be made by corporations. Who will hold them accountable?