Product Safety Role Model Mattel Not So Safe: 1M Toys Recalled

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 5:19 PM EDT

Mattel's Fisher Price division announced yesterday that it will recall 967,000 plastic toys, including Big Bird, Elmo, and Dora the Explorer, after learning its Chinese vendor used paint that contains more than .06 percent lead (the amount determined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to be acceptable.) Luckily, two-thirds of the products were quarantined before hitting shelves, but the rest were sold in the US between May and August.

David Allmark, Fisher-Price general manager, plans to learn from this recall, using it as an opportunity to evaluate their vendor-monitoring systems. While the company's commitment to improvement is exemplary, one can't help wondering what went wrong considering Mattel's reputation as a leader in outsourced manufacturing.

Recently, the New York Times examined Mattel's Shenzhen test lab, noting:

The company demands that the outside manufacturers it does use comply with its safety guidelines. And when supplies or raw materials arrive at one of its five Chinese factories, they are analyzed and tested.

"We are not perfect; we have holes," said Jim Walter, a senior vice president at Mattel. "But we're doing more than anyone else."

If Mattel is doing more than anyone else and this incident still happened, how can U.S. manufacturers ensure product safety for their products labeled "Made in China"?