What Went Wrong at Mattel
The toymaker is recalling more dangerous toys made in China. Its troubles may be a warning sign for other multinationals Elmo, Barbie, Big Bird, and Dora. They are some of the most familiar and best-loved children's characters. Now they're caught up in the global debate about the safety of Chinese-made products. Mattel (MAT), the world's largest toymaker, announced on Aug. 14 an expanded product recall, involving vehicles based on the hit movie Cars that had lead paint on them, as well as Barbie, Polly Pocket, and Batman toys that had small, powerful magnets that could harm children if swallowed. The move follows the Aug. 2 announcement of a similar recall of Fisher-Price toys with lead paint. Policing Subcontractors Is Hard
Chinese-made products have come under increasing fire in recent months, as recalls have been announced in everything from dog food to tires (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/23/07, "Broken China"). In July, the former head of China's food and drug administration was executed for taking bribes from an antibiotics manufacturer that lead to the deaths of consumers. On Aug. 13 news reports surfaced that the head of the company that made the lead-contaminated Fisher-Price toys had committed suicide at his plant over the weekend. But Mattel is not just another company suffering because it uses low-cost Chinese suppliers. The company goes to great lengths to try to ensure that the companies it does business with operate properly and ethically, even subjecting them to outside audits. Mattel's recalls illustrate how difficult it is for a multinational company, despite its best efforts, to keep tabs on all sorts of suppliers around the globe. The company has had at least 15 product recalls in the past five years, from jewelry at its American Girl doll business that contained lead to a Batmobile with dangerously pointy tail wings. For the latest recall, Mattel took out ads in national newspapers such as the The New York Times to...
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