Mama Grinch

by Stacey

In the wake of this week’s toxic toys recall, parents are now faced with the daunting task of taking away beloved toys from their children. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post talks about just how hard this can be.

Colin Kriebel’s summer has been a really cruddy inverse of Christmas. First, in June, the 3-year-old’s beloved (and lead-painted) Thomas railroad cars were recalled. Six toys total, which he’d chug-a-chugged with for more than a year. Then, on Tuesday, the ultimate blow: Colin’s Mattel Jeep, Sarge, which his Burke parents had presented last week as a reward for his first dental visit, was also listed as dangerous. Colin fretfully suggested to his mom that he could just play with Sarge a “little bit.” No dice, said Gretchen Kriebel.

Kriebel, an account executive, has a particularly acute case of guilt. “Colin is at an age where he associates things being taken away with being bad,” she says. “He has a hard time understanding it’s not his fault.”

After June’s Thomas the Tank Engine recall due to lead paint, I was surprised at how hard it was when I explained to my son Sage that he could no longer play with his well worn caboose.

“It has icky paint on it,” I explained. “It could make you sick.”

“But I LOVE that caboose!” he cried. “I want to keep it!”

So what did I do? I offered to take him to the toy store to buy him a new train to make up for the one that I had to take away. Like Kriebel, I didn’t want to him to feel like he was being punished. But that was just one train. What do you do if you’re looking at removing a whole bunch of favorite playthings? Or that special gift from Grandma that your kid waited for and got as a birthday present? This sucks.

If you are going into replacement mode, you might consider buying toys that are not made in China (for obvious reasons). The Post article mentions the toy company, D and ME, a family-owned toy business in Montana, that sells only handmade toys made of wood from sustainable forests, coated in safe paint.

I found a list of sites that sell made in the USA toys on DC Urban Moms, a kickass listserve for parents in the Washington, DC area. The sites all have names that are something along the lines of Made-in-USA dotcom, so I won’t bother with that. Just go here, here, here, and here if you want to check them out.

In the meantime, this article, also in WaPo yesterday, says that China is frantically trying to convince American consumers not to do what I just suggested, that is, avoid products made in China. At a rare press conference at the Chinese Embassy in DC, Baoqing Zhao, the first secretary from the trade and commerce section of Chinese Embassy, said the government takes the recent incidents seriously and is cracking down on problematic companies.

“There are a couple of problems, but the problems are limited,” he said. “What we want is to let consumers rest assured when they use products exported from China,” they are safe, he said.

While he was at it, Zhao also decided to throw in some digs at US manufacturers. A questionable move in my opinion.

Hitting on a theme that has been repeated by Chinese officials, Zhao also pointed out that China has found problems with food and consumer products imported from the United States. Last month, China blocked imports of some U.S. processed meat that it said showed signs of contamination, impacting some of the largest U.S. food companies, including Cargill Meat Solutions and Tyson Foods. Other problematic products, he said, have included large-scale construction equipment, generators and pacemakers.

“In our view, food quality and product safety is an international issue and not an issue limited to certain countries,” Zhao said.

Seems like after you almost poison a nation’s children, you might not go on the offensive at the same time that you’re trying to get the people whose children you almost poisoned to continue to trust you and give you their money. Just a thought.



Filed under Barbie recall, Batman recall, consumer culture, Doggie Day Care recall, Easy Bake Oven Recall, family life, Fisher-Price recall, kids, lead paint toys, Made in China, magnets recall, Mattel recall, parenting, Polly Pockets recall, recalls, Sarge recall, toxic toys, toy recall

4 responses to “Mama Grinch

  1. Family Man in the City

    While the Chinese ambassador’s comments are certainly defensive and arguably inappropriate, laying the blame at a nation’s feet is misguided at best. Manufacturer’s should certainly be held accountable for any violations of law or unethical behavior. Likewise, countries’ governments should be held accountable for any failures to enact and enforce needed laws.

    In the present case, however, I have not heard much argument that any such failures occurred. Hopefully, the manufacturers involved were under contracts with appropriate specifications for finished products. If they violated these contracts, the manufacturers are then liable for civil damages to the toy company.

    In the end, though, the final responsibility rests with the toy company. By selling their products — even those made by another company in another country — in the U.S. under their name, they are responsible for ensuring that the products are safe and conform to U.S. law.

    Chinese officials cannot verify that each and every individual product from each and every manufacturer in their country is in full compliance with the laws of the countries the products are destined for. They can — and should — ensure that they have appropriate laws and enforce them to create the reasonable liklihood that potential violators will comply for fear of being identified and prosecuted.

    U.S. officials cannot verify that each and every product entering the U.S. or sold in the U.S. conforms to all applicable law. They can — and should — ensure that they have appropriate laws and enforce them to create the reasonable liklihood that potential violators will comply for fear of being identified and prosecuted.

    The toy companies, whether manufacturing their own products from their own designs with their own materials made from their own raw materials or farming the whole process out to other companies in the U.S. or abroad are responsible for the final product.

    Otherwise, the chain of blame becomes complicated. Maybe the manufacturers relied on paint from producers in, say, France, Russia and Peru being lead-free. Perhaps the various paint companies had the paint produced by other companies packaged in cans produced by other companies still. The paints were made with pigments and dyes from still other companies, from materials produced… it’s almost endless. Certainly each producer should be held accountable to the laws of their countries and their customers. The toy manufacturers are — and should be — accountable to the laws of the U.S. and to their customers. Laying this at the feet of another country or a subcontracted manufacturer is an attempt to avoid that responsibility.

  2. Fair enough, the US companies are ultimately responsible for the products they sell. I certainly wasn’t trying to make a legal argument as to who is liable. More I was trying to make the point that maybe now isn’t the time for Chinese officials to remind US consumers that China has had to reject some US imports. If they want to make that point with US lawmakers who are publicly calling for stricter regulation of products made in China, that seems more appropriate. But if he’s speaking to me, and at a press conference, that’s essentially what’s he’s doing, I’d rather he focus on assurances that the Chinese government is working on fixing the problem, to whatever extent they can. It’s kind of like if you’re kid carelessly breaks something in the house and in the midst of apologizing reminds you that you also broke something once. True, but not really the point.

  3. The Chinese Ambassador’s response (long press conference) shows that the Chinese government has some sense of its responsibility. This is not a government famous for proactively apologizing to the West for how they do things. FMITC’s comment is technically correct, and it’s OK to point out that we shouldn’t forget about the individual manufacturers. But there’s a much bigger story than simple contract liability.

    My sense (from some time spent in China) is that the government is not as separate from the business community as we’re used to. But even more than that, this is a story about the “made in China” brand. China wants to be taken seriously as a developed nation, after several decades of behaving like a corrupt, heartless autocracy, only now it looks like there’s widespread disregard for public health issues. Lead paint?? Which we stopped using two decades ago?? Sorry, but this comes across as a really bad joke, and the message is that nothing has changed. The inability of manufacturers to live up to their word, and to show even the slightest regard for kids’ health, is the natural outgrowth of the old Chinese system. The government isn’t the only player, but they have a HUGE role to play in changing the business culture into a first-world one.

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