I haven't really blogged about the Chinese toy recalls, not knowing much about them. However, my first thought on hearing the problems described was, "aren't those design defects, not manufacturing issues?" I had a strong sense that populist distrust of trade with China was being used as a fig leaf to cover Mattel's screw-ups. Several of the recalls were for parts such as magnets that were small and could be swallowed. There was no implication that the magnets fell off because they were attached or manufactured poorly, they were just a bad design.
I have worked in a number of large manufacturing companies that have plants and suppliers in China. It was out responsibility to make sure the product that got to the customer was correct. There is no way we would source a product from an independent foreign company, and have the product delivered straight to stores without inspection, unless we were absolutely damn certain about the company's processes, up to and including having full-time manufacturing people at their plant.
Well, I might have been on to something (WSJ$)
issued an extraordinary apology to China on Friday over the recall of
Chinese-made toys, saying most of the items were defective because of
Mattel's design flaws rather than faulty manufacturing. The company
added that it had recalled more lead-tainted Chinese toys than was
Mattel ordered three high-profile recalls this summer
of millions of Chinese-made toys, including Barbie doll accessories and
toy cars, because of concerns about lead paint and tiny magnets that
could be swallowed. The "vast majority of those products that were
recalled were the result of a design flaw in Mattel's design, not
through a manufacturing flaw in China's manufacturers," Mr. Debrowski
said. Lead-tainted toys accounted for only a small percentage of all
toys recalled, he said. "We understand and appreciate deeply the issues
that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers," he
Mattel said in a statement its lead-related recalls
were "overly inclusive, including toys that may not have had lead in
paint in excess of the U.S. standards. The follow-up inspections also
confirmed that part of the recalled toys complied with the U.S.
The other interesting thing here is just how important Mattel's relationship with China is, to have even issued this apology at all. For such a massive and high-profile recall, Mattel came off very well through the succesful strategy of blaming China. I know that parents I have heard talk about the recall blame China and have increased fear of Chinese products. So it is interesting to see that Mattel feels the need to abandon this so far winning PR strategy.