More than embarrassing
By Consumers Union on Monday, October 15th, 2007
According to the Washington Post:
When the maker of Thomas & Friends wood railway toys recalled 1.5 million toys in June because they may have contained unsafe levels of lead, the company sent customers a replacement and a gift to make up for all the trouble. Now some of the gifts have been recalled, too.
One of the gifts, a gray railway car with a white roof called the Toad vehicle, and four other Thomas & Friends toys were recalled Wednesday by RC2 of Oak Brook, Ill. The toys in both recalls were made by a Chinese subcontractor, Hansheng Wood Products.
RC2 has been retesting toys made by Hansheng since June. It discovered excess levels of lead on additional toys in August. By then, however, it had already sent 146,000 gifts. RC2 estimates that about 2,000 were recalled Wednesday.
“We are deeply apologetic for and embarrassed by this turn of events, and remain determined to make it up to you and restore your confidence,” the company said in letter to customers this week.
— Washington Post, September 28, 2007, by Annys Shin
I don’t believe manufacturers would knowingly replace a dangerous toy with another dangerous toy. If nothing else, its terrible PR. Instead, companies are now scrambling to test products, many of which were already piled onto cargo freighters headed for U.S. ports when Mattel launched its high profile recalls this summer. That testing process—one not required by any law—has resulted in a continuing wave of recalls, from Barbie accessories and RC2’s popular trains to the recent recall of a Cub Scout merit badge.
After finding so many dangerous toys, I think we can be confident that the appearance of lead-laden paint on imported toys and lead in other items made for kids is not a one time mistake by a small number of people.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. embarked on a national experiment in “voluntary” systems for corporate self-regulation. With such a huge market, so many products, and competing high priority needs like national security, it is understandable that we would want companies to be honorable and set up systems to protect us without government interference.
Unfortunately, this experiment lead to the defunding of federal agencies created to enforce safety laws, and increased reliance on self-reported information from industry. As more manufacturing went overseas, and the paper trail about the supplies used to make the products got longer, we discovered that our system of regulation-by-reports was a paper tiger.
This fall, lawmakers are re-evaluating this experiment from top to bottom. We expect stronger standards and stronger agencies to emerge from this process, but it won’t be easy. There’s already pushback from those who claim “we can’t inspect our way to safety,” as I wrote after testifying before the President’s Interagency Working Group on Import Safety. The huge momentum for reform created by the very serious safety hazards in our nation’s toy boxes—and the active participation of concerned parents and voters—may well sweep aside the nay sayers for once.