GARMENTS/APPAREL, SPORTING GOODS & TOYS - Recalls hurt toy importers

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): International Trade  

Importers facing adverse effectsBy Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOTImporting toys from China has seen better days. Some of the leading names in the US toy world have been forced to recall products, particularly those manufactured in China. The recalls revolved around safety issues involving lead paint and small magnets embedded in toys that could come loose and be swallowed by children.
On June 13, RC2 Corp., a toy developer and manufacturer based in Oak Brook, IL, recalled 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys due to a lead paint-poisoning hazard. On August 22, some 70,000 spinning tops and tin pails sold under the brands Thomas and Friends and Curious George were also recalled for the same reason.
“Surface paints on the recalled products contain lead,” said an announcement from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health effects.”
Mattel, Inc., the world’s biggest toy maker, based in El Segundo, CA, was also not spared. Mattel’s difficulties stemmed from two sources: lead paint and small magnets. On August 2, the company announced a recall of approximately 1.5 million Fisher-Price toys, including Ernie, Elmo, Dora the Explorer and Big Bird dolls. On August 14, Mattel announced a second lead paint recall involving 436,000 Sarge toy cars. It also recalled over 18 million Barbie, Polly Pocket, Doggie Day Care, and Batman toys and accessories that included small, high-powered magnets that could come loose and, if swallowed, could bond together and cause intestinal perforation.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission noted that the magnets “measure one-eight of an inch in diameter and are embedded in the hands and feet of some dolls, and in plastic clothing, hairpieces and other accessories to help the pieces attach to the doll or the doll’s house.” The announcement also said there had been three reports of “serious injuries to children who swallowed more than one magnet.” Other published reports indicated that similar magnets, used in toys not made by Mattel, resulted in the death of one child and injuries to fourteen others.
TIGHTENING INSPECTION PROCEDURESThe toy industry insists that the solution to the problem lies in tightening inspection procedures. “Toys in America are among the safest in the world,” said Adrienne Citrin, a spokesperson for the Toy Industry Association, a New York-based trade group. “As new technology and innovation brings new types of toys, the industry works continuously to identify and implement improvements to the standards. Despite these efforts, we recognize that recent experience has shown that there is a need to strengthen the testing and inspection systems we use to ensure that toys exported to the US are safe.”
TIA has been working with various government regulators to tighten toy safety standards, according to Citrin. “We are working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish measures to ensure all toys are safe,” she said. “We are working with the American National Standards Institute to establish uniform, effective toy safety testing and inspection procedures for use across the US toy industry. We are working with members of Congress, examining legislation they have proposed to strengthen the CPSC and safety requirements. We are working with Chinese authorities to help establish stronger in-country testing protocols and inspections for toys intended for export anywhere.”
Citrin also said the TIA is preparing a public education program in the US, is working with its members to strengthen safety compliance activities, and is conducting toy safety seminars in China for factory managers.
The individual companies affected are also implementing measures designed to ensure higher product safety. “The company announced the voluntary recall of 26 individual wooden railway toys,” said Curt Stoelting, CEO of RC2 Corp., “…after an internal investigation linked excess levels of lead with a limited number of paint colors used at a single

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.