Mattel Apologizes…to China

by Stacey

In what strikes me as very bizarre, a senior Mattel official apologized today to China for recent toy recalls that have damaged China’s credibility with U.S. consumers. According to this AP story, in a meeting between Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations and Chinese product safety chief Li Changjiang, Mattel got an earful for maintaining weak safety controls. Here’s his response:

“Our reputation has been damaged lately by these recalls,” Debrowski told Li in a meeting at Li’s office at which reporters were allowed to be present. “And Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys,” Debrowski said.

How about, “Sure, we f#&ked up, but it was your vendors who went out and bought some lead paint to slap on our toys. Now we have egg on our face and sorry to say, so do you.”

But I guess that’s not how it went. Apparently, Mattel needs China to keep churning out toys for them. Christmas is coming after all. Though I wonder how many of us are going to be rushing out to fill our homes with more dubious crap.

The carefully worded apology, delivered with company lawyers present, underscores China’s central role in Mattel’s business. The world’s largest toy maker has been in China for 25 years and about 65 percent of its products are made in China.

In case you missed it, over the summer Mattel issued three separate recalls of over 21 million Chinese-made toys that were either tainted with lead paint or contained tiny magnets that could prove to be fatal to small children.

The recalls have prompted complaints from China that manufacturers were being blamed for design faults introduced by Mattel.

On Friday, Debrowski acknowledged that “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 all toys recalled, he said, adding that: “We understand and appreciate deeply the issues that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers.”

Okay, so if I understand this correctly, Mattel is saying that the big problem was the design of the toys with magnets. The lead paint issue was small in comparison, and so China’s reputation took a bigger hit than it should have.

In a statement issued by the company Friday, Mattel said its lead-related recalls were “overly inclusive, including toys that may not have had lead in paint in excess of the U.S. standards.

“The follow-up inspections also confirmed that part of the recalled toys complied with the U.S. standards,” the statement said, without giving specific figures.

It doesn’t sound like the Chinese government is interested in taking much blame for what happened. This is where the story gets a little creepy. Li goes on the offensive and Mattel goes down for the count.

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

“This shows that our cooperation is in the interests of Mattel, and both parties should value our cooperation. I really hope that Mattel can learn lessons and gain experience from these incidents,” Li said, adding that Mattel should “improve their control measures.”


“China has bristled at what it claims is a campaign to discredit its reputation as an exporter,” the AP story says. “It accuses foreign media and others of playing up its product safety issues as a form of protectionism.” Or, another way of looking at it is, self-protection, as in, I’d like to protect myself and my kids from poisonous products.

Beijing insists that the vast majority of its exports are safe but has stepped up inspections of food, drugs and other products in response to the concerns, the article says. Gee, thanks. Oh and by the way, so sorry for your trouble.


1 Comment

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One response to “Mattel Apologizes…to China

  1. Hm, nothing new about the Chinese government denying responsibility, but it’s a little hollow here. Yes, it’s individual companies serving Mattel, and it’s Mattel’s job to make sure the products are OK before they get sold. And yes, Mattel makes a profit by exploiting Chinese labor, free of those unpleasant labor and environmental standards. But China is all for this system and the foreign investment it brings, so if the system itself is somewhat slapdash, I don’t see how this isn’t China’s problem to some degree. They want the cash but none of the lost face from being the world’s crap factory… this is all about their hosting the Olympics and getting the key to the World’s Executive washroom. They have a lot of experience papering over their sins, but it’s not working like it used to.

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