Amid the flurry of recalls this summer, Mattel has tried to assure US consumers that it cares about safety. But yesterday before the news of the latest Mattel recall was announced, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the company’s history of flouting the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Amid two high-profile toy recalls this summer, Mattel Inc. has said its highest priority is protecting children by pulling defective products off store shelves as soon as hazards emerge.
But the company’s own definition of such a timely response differs sharply from the government’s — as Mattel openly acknowledges. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that manufacturers must report all claims of potentially hazardous product defects within 24 hours, with few exceptions.
Mattel, in at least three major cases since the late 1990s — including last month’s recall of nearly 18 million playsets studded with potentially dangerous magnets — took months to gather information. In two of the cases, it collected scores of complaints for months before disclosing them to the agency.
The company’s CEO, Robert Eckert, told WSJ that the laws are too strict and that companies should be able to investigate before reporting concerns to the government. But regulators say the law is clear and when it comes to children’s toys, companies should not delay releasing information about potential hazards.
Since 2001, the agency has twice fined the world’s largest toymaker for “knowingly” withholding information regarding problems that “created an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.” Mattel settled the cases, denying any wrongdoing or that the recalled toys had a defect. Now, the commission is investigating the timeliness of the company’s disclosures before its most recent recall.
Mattel has had run-ins with the feds repeatedly over the years, the article says.
Mattel’s conflicts with the CPSC stretch back nearly a decade. The company previously was fined $1.1 million for failing to promptly report a fire hazard involving its Power Wheels line of motorized minicars, designed to be ridden by children as young as 2 years old. Ten million of the cars were pulled from the market in 1998.
Mattel knew about hundreds of problems with the toy’s electrical systems, “yet did nothing for years,” said Ms. Brown, then the agency’s chairwoman, after announcing the penalty in 2001. The commission said there were reports of 150 fires involving the minicars and more than 10 times as many reports of electrical components overheating, melting, short-circuiting or failing.
And then there’s this charming example.
Less than a year after paying the Power Wheels fine, Mattel again defied the commission’s reporting rules. In the fall of 2002, Mattel began collecting a large number of reports involving its popular Little People Animal Sounds Farm. This time, the issue was the safety of screws used in the barnyard-themed toys, which could pose a hazard if swallowed. In one case, a screw had punctured the lung of a 14-month-old baby who had inhaled it. The child required emergency surgery.
“It was not until March 2003 that the company reported the safety hazard” to the commission, an agency investigation concluded. The government discovered that Mattel had collected 32 earlier reports of loose screws before approaching regulators. Denying any wrongdoing, the company signed a settlement in March, agreeing to pay $975,000.
Apparently fines don’t teach a lesson.
The issue of timely reporting, however, has cropped up anew in the latest round of recalls. Last November, Mattel recalled roughly two million figurines it marketed under the Polly Pocket brand because of high-power magnets in the figurines that could fall off and tear through a child’s stomach lining if swallowed. Over the next eight months, the company collected an additional 400 reports of problems with other toy lines studded with magnets before expanding its recall this summer to include an additional 18 million toys.
It isn’t clear how long Mattel spent analyzing the reports before advising the CPSC, and agency officials declined to comment because they are investigating the timing of Mattel’s disclosures. Last week, Mr. Eckert said he couldn’t remember when the company brought the complaints about the magnets to the attention of authorities.
This company sucks. There are more bad stories in the article. It’s worth a read if you want to get really pissed off at Mattel. The company is spinning this recall fiasco like its working in cooperation with the CPSC. Don’t buy it. And better yet, don’t buy their toys either.