- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

Toy giant Mattel Inc. yesterday apologized to China over the recall of toys made there, taking the blame for design flaws and saying it had recalled more lead-tainted toys than needed.

Mattel, which counts on China for about 65 percent of its products, recalled several hundred thousand toys worldwide earlier this month and almost 19 million toys made in China last month.

The toys were recalled over concern about high levels of lead paint and magnets that could be swallowed.

The Mattel apology, by Executive Vice President for Worldwide Operations Thomas A. Debrowski, came in a Beijing meeting with Chinese product safety chief Li Changjiang, at which Mr. Li chastised the company for maintaining weak safety controls.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” Mr. Debrowski told Mr. Li.

The Mattel executive acknowledged that 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.”

Lead-tainted toys accounted for only a small percentage of the toys recalled, he said, adding that: “We understand and appreciate deeply the issues that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers.”

Mr. Li reminded Mr. Debrowski that “a large part of your annual profit … comes from your factories in China.”

The toy company said, however, that some reports of the meeting with Chinese officials had been “mischaracterized.”

Mattel’s apology is the latest move in a series of recalls and scandals regarding tainted or dangerous imports of Chinese food, toys and other products.

Yesterday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a recall of about 1 million Chinese-made cribs because of failures relating to deaths of infants.

The Simplicity and Graco cribs, both made by Simplicity Inc. of Reading, Pa., were recalled after three children became entrapped in their cribs and died of suffocation, the CPSC said.

Peter Navarro, a business professor at the University of California at Irvine, and the author of “The Coming China Wars,” suggested Mattel was trying to avoid punitive measures in its apology.

“Mattel is worried that the Chinese government is going to make it difficult for them to produce, put their costs up and hurt their stock price,” he said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called on the Chinese to apologize.

“While I’m not going to argue with a U.S. company’s apology for recent toy recalls, most would agree that China should be apologizing as well to consumers around the world for exporting shoddy products and dangerous food,” said the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

Mattel’s mea culpa could help reshape the debate surrounding Chinese-made toys.

Research released this month indicates that recalls due to design problems accounted for the vast majority — about 76 percent — of the 550 U.S. toy recalls since 1988.

The report, from Paul R. Beamish, an international business professor at Canada’s University of Western Ontario, and Hari Bapuji, business professor at the University of Manitoba’s I.H. Asper School of Business in Winnipeg, found that recalls blamed on design problems and manufacturing defects, such as lead paint or poor craftmanship, rose in the past two years as U.S. makers have shifted more production to China.

Mr. Li told reporters after the meeting with Mr. Debrowski that the government had taken swift action against Lee Der Industrial Co. Ltd, the company that supplied the lead-tainted toys to Mattel, shutting down its operations and revoking its business license. Four persons from the company also face criminal charges, he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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