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Amid concerns of quality and safety of their products, China is hit by 1.6 million lead-based paint recalls from a variety of retailers, and a 18.2 million unit recall due to hazardous loose magnets by the toy giant Mattel

August proved a particularly devastating month for China's commercial image.

In August, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the independent U.S. government agency tasked with protecting consumers from injurious products, reported eight seperate large recalls of children's toys, which contained toxic levels of lead in their paint. 

The products were recalled by such companies as Mattel, Fischer Price and  Jo-Ann  Fabrics.

The Fischer Price recall was the largest, at 967,000 units -- the items recalled included toys from the popular Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer lines.

Additionally, another large recall from Toys 'R' Us of a line of art supply kits was reported, on Thursday, by the Environmental News Network.

Lead poisoning
has many harmful side effects including reduced cognitive function, nausea, abdominal pain, irritability, hyperactivity, (and conversely) lethargy, seizure, coma, gastrointestinal problems, anemia, kidney failure, and reproductive health problems.  Lead poisoning results partially from the lead atoms bonding to enzymes which produce heme, the oxygen carrying molecule of red blood cells.  Typical lead poisoning involves blood levels of 200 ppb, however children can exhibit cognitive and mental damage at much lower levels of contamination, a reason why these recalls are particularly concerning.

The massive August recalls raise the total number of lead paint recalls of Chinese products by the CPSC to over 5 million units, so far in 2007, with another 675,000 this week alone.  Many different kinds of products have been recalled this last month, and throughout 2007, including children's clothing with painted buttons, painted jewelry, and a wide variety of toys.

Lead paint contamination was only one of China's woes in August, unfortunately.  The toy giant Mattel announced on Tues. August 14th, that it was recalling 18.2 million magnetic toys, worldwide.  This recall included 9.5 million toys in the U.S. 

The toys contained loose small, powerful magnets which could pose dangers as a choking hazard.  So far no injuries have been report, however multiple incidences of detached magnets have been reported, including one reported by the CPSC which involved a child found with a magnet in his mouth.

While only 3 children have recently, according to CPSC statistics, been hurt by swallowing magnets, the injuries caused in these case have been very serious.  The CPSC states that:
If (the magnets) attract one another inside the digestive tract (the magnets) can form large enough groups of small magnets to be able to rip holes in the wall of a child's intestinal wall, or create a blockage in the intestine. Similar damage can occur in the respiratory system if the child somehow inhales these magnets.
More troubling is the revelation that the Chinese were aware of the situation, but continued to produce the defective toys.  An official with the China Toy Association, who declined to be identified, was quoted as saying:
We knew about the situation, because since March some toys had been recalled due to magnetic parts problems.
MSNBC reported that a public opinion poll in August found that two-thirds of U.S. citizens would support a boycott on Chinese produced goods, to protest China's failure to control the quality of its exports.

The Chinese government tried to defend itself by stating that the CPSC had only issued 29 recalls out of 300,000 export orders.

GMA News reports that the Chinese government, in desperation to convince people that its products are not of substandard quality, has resorted to broadcasting a weeklong series of television programming defending the quality of their exports last week, on their state run television.

The article described Li Changjiang, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in China announcing on the show, "I'm here to tell you: have faith in made-in-China," to a group of foreign and Chinese executives and journalists invited to the show.

Unfortunately for China, the programming will only air on Chinese TV, and Li's assurances seem rather hard to believe amid the deluge of serious defects reported in August.

GMA News also mentions news that in New Zealand formaldehyde concentrations up to 900 times above the safe level were found in Chinese-manufactured woolen and cotton clothes.

Still, as bad a month as August was, things could get even worse for China in coming months.  The China Times reports that there is new legislation on the table in Congress, sponsored by Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican and co-chair of the U.S.-China Working Group, proposing to raise the maximum fine for importers of faulty food or toy products to US$50 million from the current US$500,000.

If this law were in effect today, over the course of August, China would have have been fined in excess of $1.45 billion.

From lead paint to formaldehyde and magnets, August 2007 is a month that China will likely want desperately to forget, but it is likely to remain in the minds of many U.S. retailers, U.S. citizens, and businesses worldwide for a long, long time.

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Where's the quality control?
By rsmech on 9/6/2007 10:29:53 PM , Rating: 2
Great article.

My question is did these products always have lead paint or whatever the problem from the first or did the quality change over time? Did the toy manufacturer test these products themselves & continually test them periodically? They may have specified the requirements but do they check them or is the price the only thing inspected? True China tried pulling a fast one because they should have known but it's Fisher Price or whoever warrantying these things. Their hands aren't clean either.

RE: Where's the quality control?
By Kuroyama on 9/7/2007 1:21:59 AM , Rating: 3
In most of the lead paint examples involving big companies like Mattel, they contracted work to manufacturers but demanded they use paint from an approved list of providers. Then, at some point for various reasons the factories switched to a non-approved company without informing Mattel and others. I do not think there are accusations of factories for Mattel knowingly using leaded paint, rather their problem was to trust the paint seller who claimed the paint was not leaded. So, negligent on the factory's part, but probably not intentional use of leaded paint.

As far as the importers, at least in Mattel's case it seems that they test regularly and give surprise factory visits. However, their policy was that the longer they worked with a manufacturer the less they tested their products. Some of these suppliers had worked with them for up to 20 years without any major problems, so Mattel was cutting them too much slack.

RE: Where's the quality control?
By BBeltrami on 9/7/2007 10:39:11 AM , Rating: 5
Quality control in China, eh? I dunno whether to laugh or cry.

Personally, I am thoroughly unimpressed by the whole idea that we consumers should suddenly be up-in-arms over the low quality of goods that China exports. For the last half-century the little gold sticker, "Made in China" has been synonymous with poor quality. Cheap materials, cheap labor, cheap packing and cheap documentation have been the benchmark.

It's Crap? What a shock!

RE: Where's the quality control?
By 16nm on 9/7/2007 1:19:00 PM , Rating: 2
This is Japan all over again. Since the Japanese Govt instituted quality control programs, Japanese products have grown to be the best. I see the same thing happening to Chinese products.

By Axbattler on 9/8/2007 11:43:19 AM , Rating: 2
I think their quality control is polarised. Not every product out of China is of poor standard. I know that they have gone a very long way for commercial products such as (huge) glass windows for hotels/shopping malls which caught up with the quality you'd get in the West.

On the other hand, toys aside, there are semi frequent concerns about their consumables. They need to streamline their quality control to also include consumer products.

Defining quality
By Rovemelt on 9/7/2007 11:31:55 AM , Rating: 3
Thanks for the article Mick. This is a real concern to those of us who have children out there. In older cities across the US, parents have to also worry about children getting lead from old flaking paint inside homes.

People in the US seem to put price above all else when it comes to making a purchase. It's no's quick and easy to compare prices on items and with so many items to choose from. But it's not easy to figure out where or how an item is made or if that particular item will last at all. As a consequence, we've essentially filled our stores with items from the lowest bidder. I hope that as global trade matures we figure out how to balance quality and worker/environmental conditions as part of trade negotiations. What you think?

RE: Defining quality
By Ringold on 9/7/2007 6:26:36 PM , Rating: 3
worker/environmental conditions

Forcing safety standards to be met is quite reasonable.

Trying to implement worker and environmental standards, though, opens a whole sack of worms.

While it's well-intentioned so was a tax on the richest dozen families in America has exploded in to a massive weath redistribution system that is at the core of most of the corruption and hang-wringing that goes on behind the scenes in Washington, leading to the small army of astoundingly high-paid lobbyists all trying to get their clients tax breaks placed within a tax code so complex that our most powerful supercomputers can't tackle it.

Inserting labor and environmental standards can serve as a pre-text for future tinkering by politicians, not for the benefit of foreign workers mind you but domestic labor unions. Environmental policy would work in a similar manner, except for a different core constituency; environmentalists.

For a conservative such as myself, it even offends my sense of free choice. What moral right do we have to impose our own values upon our trading partners? It would be imposing; they either accept our deal or suffer from a lack of easy access to our markets. At least that applies to our democratic partners, which includes almost all of South America and much of East Asia. China is a whole other cup of tea; we're not so large in comparison we have the luxury to be arrogant Morality Cops and dictate social policy to them.

On the flip side, it also opens us up to unwelcome pressure from the EU to adopt various standards we may not want to. NAFTA gets around all this quite nicely by merely requiring companies in foreign countries to adhere to the standards of their own government, thus allowing local democracy and economic development to follow its own natural course.

Furthermore, I think it's also partly a symptom of rich nations forgetting how it is they got to be where they are; typically providing cheaper labor to those that were one rung up further on the ladder. By condescending to these people for daring to break their backs so that the next generation perhaps has the luxury to vote for higher labor standards can in fact cause more long term harm than good if we push too far. I for one don't trust politicians, who are not economists, to know how far to push.

time to get serious
By macuser25 on 9/8/2007 10:16:37 PM , Rating: 6
It's really shocking how many lead recalls there are that you never even hear about. I found a site that tracks all of them and sends me emails whenever there are new ones.

It's time for the US to get serious about inferior toys being imported. We need to protect our children.

Indicting China
By mindless1 on 9/7/2007 8:05:52 AM , Rating: 4
Indicting an entire large country because of the actions of a very few companies in that country is crazy. It's not like they're all conspiring together to put lead in the paint or antifreeze in the toothpaste. Individual products and perhaps the companies producing them should be banned from inport until such time that we have a reasonable assurance the problem doesn't persist.

On the other hand, we do need to send a stronger message to the Chinese goverment that particular industries and their SOP need more scrutiny, and more significant penalties - not a fine payed to the US but one paid to the Chinese government and imprisonment for those individuals responsible.

Now the shocking truth. We can't have it both ways, if massive QC changes are required then the low cost of many goods we get from China will go up. The whole point was that the goods were cheaper so are some really thinking we can demand higher quality for less money then demand a billion dollars if they can't meet this goal? Good luck with that, they'll just become more resistant to sending certain products to the US at all.

Remember you don't HAVE to buy a product made in China if you don't want to, so long as country of origin is on the label each consumer can choose for themselves. You may have to pay more if you're that picky but as mentioned, QC isn't free and neither are higher quality goods as cheap to produce in most cases.

boycott, eh?
By djkrypplephite on 9/7/2007 2:56:12 PM , Rating: 2
I would love to boycott China, kill their foreign income and GDP. Destroy their economy before it gets as big as ours.

RE: boycott, eh?
By nah on 9/9/2007 4:18:46 AM , Rating: 2
perhaps you and fxnick should be boycotted ?

Open a new factory
By blackseed on 9/7/2007 2:56:18 PM , Rating: 3
You know, all the factories will be shutdown and opened with a new name with same people running the show.

If China cracked down on these factory owners, China would be in better position in the world market but I don't see that happening. Until then, I will try my best (I know...hard) avoid my best to avoid Chinese made products.

By number999 on 9/6/2007 10:07:26 PM , Rating: 2
As a side note, China is also trying to blame importers of these goods to these shores but come on, changing standards? How long has the lead standards for the US been around. Shows what just going for the lowest price gets you sometimes especially with little or no quality controls on both ends.

By zombiexl on 9/9/2007 11:54:07 AM , Rating: 2
well <expletive deleted> you too...

I agree that the blame may be with some american companies (Walmart would be a big one) who only want cheap labor and dont care about quality.

Some of the blame desrves to go to the unions that tell their member they deserve $20-$50/hr for doing something that requires no formal training. Which thereby caused many companies to close and setup shop in China.

But a large majority of the blame has to be witht he manufacturers. They know the laws of the land they are exporting to, they should try not to poison people for the sake of saving 3 cents on a dollar.

Most of us dont have a choice of where our products are made. My money says most people would pay a few cent more (per dollar) for safer products.

By Ringold on 9/9/2007 12:59:43 PM , Rating: 2
Is that you, Chavez? Or perhaps Castro blathering from his death bed? Welcome to DT!

screw the chinks
By fxnick on 9/6/07, Rating: -1
RE: screw the chinks
By oTAL on 9/7/2007 3:44:33 AM , Rating: 3
Sure it would...
Ever heard of MAED? Are you aware that if Chinese consumer goods were blocked you wouldn't be able to buy a laptop?

Consumer electronics prices would go through the roof, as would toys, and so many other things. It would be hard to build a desktop with no Chinese parts in it. I believe you wouldn't even be able to buy an iPod.

Globalization is good for the economy. And it's also nearly irreversible...

Ignorant racists like you are the reason wars are started and racial violence is such a problem in the modern world.

Should there be high sanctions? You bet! And the new legislation mentioned in the article seems to be up to the job. Should Chinese products be banned? I'm willing to bet 10 years of my wage against six months of your allowance that it won't happen.

RE: screw the chinks
By JasonMick on 9/7/2007 9:27:24 AM , Rating: 3
I agree completely.

To "fxnick":
This post was not meant as a racial diatribe, you are only making yourself look stupid posting something like you did.

That could not have less to do with my point in writing this article--which was to mention the current state of affairs in terms of quality control of Chinese made products, which is relatively poor today, and show some potential suggestions for resolution.

As you said oTAL, globalization is inevitable. Companies just have to get a little smarter about you aren't getting something for nothing, basically.

Also, many Chinese firms need to charge higher rates, so that they are not taking the difference out of the product.

I think a lot of blame rests with the US manufacturers as well, who laid off jobs previously held in the US, to ship their manufacturing overseas, and then failed to carefully monitor the quality. Its similar to if a parent who ignores their child and the child eat household chemicals. The parent (under US law) will likely be charged with a criminal act of negligence, as they have responsibility for the child's welfare. Similarly corporations have a responsibility to control and keep an eye on their manufacturer's quality, if they are not willing to manufacture their products internally.

Stories like this are good, as they help persuade the guilty parties on both sides of the ocean to change their ways.

Chinese goods are essential to the world economy, however major changes are needed, to prevent disaster for both the Chinese economy, and the international consumer.

RE: screw the chinks
By zombiexl on 9/9/2007 11:29:03 AM , Rating: 1
Other than the racial sentiment i'd have to agree.
This has gotten out of hand..

First it was dog and cat food, then our food now its our kids toys. If this were the 40's many would see these things as acts of war.

I am in no way saying we should go to war over this, but we have to do something. Stop imports of toys and food from china (actually why do we need to import any food? We could stop paying farmers to not grow stuff.) I'm all for saving a few bucks at the sotre, but when the cost is my family's safety there is no price I wouldnt pay.

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