China Opens Factory To Foreign Media

After Mattel's 19 million toy recall damaged its global reputation, media tour intended to show 'China's toy-making industry is actually very good.'

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) — Stung by global recalls, China opened toy factories and a toy-testing lab to foreign media Tuesday, showing off workers in white lab coats scraping paint off plastic toys and twisting the legs and arms of action-figure dolls.
China's manufacturing reputation suffered damage last month when Mattel Inc., the world's biggest toy maker, recalled nearly 19 million Chinese-made items. The products included dolls, cars and action figures that were contaminated with lead paint or contained small, powerful magnets that could damage a child's organs if swallowed.
''China's toy-making industry is actually very good. It is not messed up like the Americans say,'' said Zhong Dechang, director general of the Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.
The one-day media tour through the booming southern province of Guangdong comes as the government launched a crackdown on unqualified manufacturers, part of a four-month campaign to improve quality in all steps of production.
Toys have not been China's only problem products in recent months. Toxic chemicals have been found in exports ranging from toothpaste to pet food ingredients.
The epicenter for the toy recall controversy has been Guangdong, where 5,000 toy-making enterprises accounted for about 80 percent of China's toy exports last year, according to the provincial industry association quoted by state-run media.
About 1.5 million people are employed by the factories that produced 121.9 billion yuan (US$16.1 billion; euro11.8 billion) in toys last year, the association was quoted as saying.
Six of the factories are run by Jetta (China) Industries, which started in Hong Kong in 1977 and opened its first plant in Guangdong in 1983.
Eddie Shum, senior manager of Jetta's quality department, said paint is quarantined when it arrives from a supplier until it can be tested for lead by the plant's independent lab.
''If the paint is substandard, we will send the whole lot back to the vendor,'' Shum said.
The plant on the edge of Guangzhou city in an industrial park surrounded by lush green banana fields makes a range of toys, including Little Mermaids for Disney, Spiderman figures for Hasbro and rubber duck bath toys for Fisher-Price.
Jetta employs 40,000 people and Managing Director T.S. Wong said his business had not been hurt by worries surrounding the recent recalls.
''It hasn't affected our business at all,'' he said. ''In general, the toy industry in China is a well-regulated industry. So far, the system has been growing and improving. The future of the toy industry in China is good.''
Government officials also took reporters to a smaller factory employing just 100 people. The Ball Star Toys Co., Ltd. makes toy soccer, rugby and footballs that are commonly given away as promotions.
Standing near a promotion case that had a ball with the words ''Scottish Rugby'' on it, General Manager Lin Zhongjiang complained that the whole industry was being blamed for isolated cases.
''If there is a problem, they should look at the specific problem and investigate. They shouldn't say all Chinese manufacturing has problems,'' he said.
Asked if there were factories making substandard products, Lin answered, ''This I don't know because I am busy with my own business.''
The southern Guangdong lab visited Tuesday was housed in a huge new building with gray marble pillars in front and two large stone dragons at the entrance way.
''We're one of the nation's five top toy-testing labs,'' said the facility's deputy director, Chen Yang.
He said 6,000 different types of tests can be carried out, ranging from analysis of paint and plastics to testing electrical parts and sound tests.
One of the lab's rooms was filled with boxes of Dora the Explorer dolls and Barbie play sets.
Chen said the lab was one of 60 throughout Guangdong, also a major producer of other products, from footwear and furniture to computers and cars. The province is the central part of the Pearl River Delta, a cutting-edge industrial region that was mostly farm fields and fish ponds before China began experimenting with market reforms in 1979.
Guangdong's status came partly from its proximity to wealthy Hong Kong, whose companies flooded across the border. Many of the early investors were toy factory owners who moved their operations to Guangdong in search of cheap labor.
The foreign investment helped the region's gross domestic product grow from US$8 billion in 1980 to a whopping US$221.2 billion in 2005.
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