by Sean Chercover
Remember the old joke? Timmy calls Jimmy an idiot, and Mom says, “Timmy, you apologize right this instant!” So Timmy says, “Okay Jimmy, I’m sorry you’re an idiot.”
Ha-ha. Anyway, in one of the more bizarre moves I’ve ever seen, U.S. toy company Mattel apologized to China yesterday. Yes, you read that correctly. Mattel apologized to China, the country that has been supplying our children with poisonous lead-painted toys of late. If you’ve been conscious in recent months, you’ve probably read something about the recalls of more than 21 million Chinese-made toys, from various Mattel brands.
The apology was delivered by Thomas Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations. “Our reputation has been damaged lately by these recalls,” began Debrowski, demonstrating his grasp of the blindingly obvious.
Debrowski, who also holds the title VP of dictator ass-kissing, then addressed Chinese product safety chief Li Changjiang, sucking-up thusly: “Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys.”
Mattel’s chief jellyfish then acknowledged that the, “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.”
So Mattel specifically designed its toys to be dipped in poisonous paint that exposes our children to lead levels over 200 times the legal limit?!
No, of course not. My mistake. Or, China’s mistake, if you want to pick nits. But don’t wait for either the weasels at Mattel, or the Chinese “product safety chief” to acknowledge this.
Li responded to Debrowski’s boot-licking by chastising Mattel, and reminded him that, “a large part of your annual profit . . . comes from your factories in China.”
No kidding. Or as our lead-painted kids would say, Duh.
And just in case anyone was still unsure about exactly who is the Top and who is the Bottom in this relationship, Li added, “I really hope that Mattel can learn lessons and gain experience from these incidents,” concluding that Mattel should, “improve their control measures.”
It would be misleading to call Mattel a toy manufacturer. They once were, and they even made some of those toys in the USA. But as Li pointed out, Mattel maximized profits by shipping all those jobs to China, where labor is cheap and where environmental and safety standards are a bad joke.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but of all the toys recalled in the US so far this year, ALL of them were made in China (read this NYT article before you buy your kid's next toy).
No, Mattel is no longer a toy maker. They are a brand management and product distribution company, as are so many former manufacturers. And by focusing on maximum profit to the exclusion of all else, they have betrayed the trust of their customers and endangered our children. Not once, but over and over again. By apologizing to the very people who painted lead on our children’s toys, they have now added insult to grave injury.
I’m happy to report that Lego does not make any of its toys in China. I'm a big fan of Lego. And here’s an NYT article that profiles some other toy manufacturers who still seem to care about safety and quality.