Mattel Inc. told a Senate hearing yesterday that it failed to keep close watch over its Chinese subcontractors, who skirted rules designed to prevent the use of dangerous lead paint in toys.
Mattel has cut ties with some of the Chinese companies, Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Eckert told the Senate Appropriations financial services and general government subcommittee.
“Our systems were circumvented and our standards were violated,” he said. “I can”t change the past, but I can change the way we do things. And I already have. We are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.”
Mr. Eckert insisted that Mattel is testing toys to ensure they will be safe this holiday, following recall after recall of 21 million toys including Barbie accessories and “Cars” figurines. Toy makers RC2 Corp. and Hasbro Inc. also have recently recalled toys made in China.
Mattel has instituted safeguards, including requiring vendors to buy paint from certified suppliers, increasing the frequency of inspections, and requiring that samples of finished products be tested by Mattel or a certified lab after every production run, Mr. Eckert said.
Jerry Storch, chairman and chief executive officer of Toys “R” Us Inc., told the Senate panel that the toy retailer was planning to announce this week a plan to e-mail consumers about recalls and issue bilingual recall notices.
About 70 percent to 80 percent of toys sold in the United States are made in China, according to the Toy Industry Association.
Mattel, the biggest American toy maker, and Toys “R” Us, the second-largest American toy seller behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc., pushed for more funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to test imported products.
The Toy Industry Association said last week that the major toy manufacturers are already doing such testing, but that it’s not enough.
Only one CPSC employee is assigned to test toys, according to acting Chairwoman Nancy A. Nord, leaving most toys to pass into the U.S. without government testing.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee, and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and ranking member of the panel, pressed the CPSC on whether it can guarantee future toys will be safe. Under pressure, Ms. Nord agreed to aggressively go after Chinese suppliers who use lead paint.
But she blamed government bureaucracy for not clearly authorizing her to enforce a U.S. ban on lead paint in the past.
Sally Greenberg, senior product safety counsel at Consumers Union, the Yonkers, N.Y., publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, told the committee that the CPSC could have gotten tougher on Chinese manufacturers that use lead paint.
Companies flout the agency’s rules, she said, because it’s cheaper to pay the fines than follow the rules.
“This agency has to stop being a paper tiger and start getting some bark and some bite,” she said.