China Official Blames Mattel, Manufacturers

Guangdong Provincial Toy Industry Association chairman says producers are responsible but Mattel can't shrug off blame.

BEIJING (AP) β€” Chinese manufacturers and American toy giant Mattel Inc. are both responsible for recent recalls of millions of lead-tainted toys worldwide, a Chinese official said in an interview published Wednesday.
 
Li Zhuoming, executive vice chairman of the Guangdong Provincial Toy Industry Association, said blame ''cannot be pushed to either side'' in this summer's recalls, which included popular Sesame Street, Barbie and Polly Pocket products made in the province.
 
''The producers are responsible because they do not have tight controls over purchasing and production,'' Li was quoted as saying in the state-run Guangzhou Daily newspaper. ''But the buyer Mattel cannot evade responsibility.''
 
Li, whose group represents toy-makers in Guangdong, an export manufacturing base for a large percentage of Chinese products, said Mattel neglected to ''do its job well in quality inspections.'' He did not give any details or say how the producers did not follow standards.
 
Robert Eckert, Mattel's chairman and CEO, last week defended the measures the company has taken to ensure the safety of its toys, saying he was ''disappointed in what has occurred and what has transpired.''
 
China's goods have come under intense scrutiny in recent months after toxic chemicals were found in exports ranging from toothpaste to seafood and pet food ingredients.
 
Also Wednesday, a distributor announced a recall in Australia and New Zealand of Chinese-made blankets found to contain high levels of formaldehyde, a potentially cancer-causing chemical preservative that gives a permanent press effect to clothes.
 
The voluntary recall of ''Superlux'' label blankets by Australia-based Charles Parsons came two days after the New Zealand government launched an urgent investigation into Chinese-made clothes discovered containing dangerous levels of formaldehyde.
 
Because a growing number of countries have rejected or recalled its exports, Beijing has been forced to launch a campaign to reassure its consumers at home and abroad, while highlighting similar problems in other countries and criticizing foreign media for playing up the issue.
 
China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said Wednesday that it has found ''numerous quality problems'' with soybeans imported from the United States.
 
While the quality watchdog did not give details on shipments, it said it had found pesticides, poisonous weeds, and dirt in the U.S. exports.
 
The American Soybean Association says the beans β€” crushed for oil and used as animal feed β€” are the biggest single U.S. farm export to China, which has bought billions of dollars worth since the current market year began last September.
 
Commerce Minister Bo Xilai said Tuesday he had confidence in the ''made-in-China'' label because product quality had made great progress in the last few years.
 
''We are against the exaggeration and playing up of products found to have problems. We are against trade protectionism,'' Bo said on a program aired on China Central Television, part of a weeklong special series aimed at defending the country's dedication to quality.
 
One of the August recalls by El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel involved 19 million items including dolls, cars and action figures around the world. Some were contaminated with lead paint. Others had small magnets that children might swallow. Two weeks before, 967,000 Chinese-made plastic preschool toys from Mattel's Fisher-Price unit were recalled because of possible lead-paint hazards.
 
U.S. safety officials have said no injuries had been reported with any of the products and the broad scope was to prevent potential problems.
 
Both cases hint at the long and murky supply chain making it difficult to trace the exact origin of components, chemicals and food additives produced by Chinese manufacturers.
 
In the Fisher-Price recall _ which included Big Bird and Elmo toys with excessive amounts of lead β€” Chinese media have reported the factory used ''fake paint'' sold by the maker's best friend.
 
Cheung Shu-hung, who co-owned Lee Der Industrial Co., committed suicide after the recall.
 
Police are investigating Lee Der and Hansheng Wood Products Factory, which made wooden railroad toys and set parts that were recalled by New York-based RC2 Corp. in June, for using ''fake plastic pigment.'' Such pigments are a type of industrial latex used to make surfaces smoother and shinier.
 
Li said profit margins in China's toy industry are low and ''it's hard to make money'' because of the cost of labor and materials. He warned that foreign companies run the risk of getting shoddy products if they demand too low a price from Chinese manufacturers.
 
''If you give a high price for purchasing, the factories will use high quality raw materials to produce. But if the price is low, they can only use inferior raw materials,'' said Li.
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