Sunday, December 2, 2007

It's too late to say your sorry for making poisonous toy beads

I thought I was reading the Onion when I saw the headline: "Chinese company says its sorry for making poisonous toy beads"

But this was a headline in a Business Section article in none other than the New York Times!

A statement, issued by the Hong Kong company that manufactured millions of poisonous toy beads in mainland China, JSSY Ltd., read: “Our apologies to all the children who ate the beads by accident and their parents, and overseas consumers. We apologize for all the negative effect caused by this incident to China manufacturers. We apologize for the negative effect on ‘Made in China.'"

Is this an apology or damage control for China Incorporated?

While expressing regret over producing poisonous beads. most of JSSY's apology focuses on the public relations disaster, "the negative effect," that the production of harmful toys could have on Chinese manufacturing companies.

Carter Keithley, the president of the Toy Industry Association in the United States, confirmed this when he said at a toy industry conference two weeks ago in Guangzhou that the bead recall had made it harder for American toy vendors to promise consumers that China was stepping up its vigilance.

“This latest incident has made it extremely awkward for us to continue that defense,” he said.

As is usually the case, the company's incentive for using beads made of poisonous chemicals was a higher rate of profit.

Mr. Liao, chairman and owner of JSSY, said that his company had chosen a glue ingredient for the beads that cost half as much as the glue ingredient that the beads’ main distributor, Moose Enterprise of Australia, thought JSSY was using.

Liang Shuhe, a deputy director general of China’s ministry of commerce, seemed to be excusing Chinese companies that have been found to use unsafe material in producing a range of toys from beads to Mattel products to the Thomas the Train Engine when he said: "Chinese toy makers faced narrowing profit margins — a result of rising wages and the appreciation of the yuan against the dollar — but should still meet safety standards."

Hand ringing and apologies don't alter the fact that toy manufacturing has relocated to China because it is cheaper-wages are lower and labor and environmental protections are virtually non-existent.

If manufacturers award contracts solely on price, they are creating perverse incentives that lead to abusive labor practices, the use of cheap, unsafe chemicals and materials, and environmental degradation.

The United States has only one full-time employee to test imported toys despite recalls in the last two months of more than 13 million Chinese made toys with lead levels that sometimes reached 200 times the safety limit. Remarkably, the Bush administration is actively opposing efforts to increase the number of inspectors and strengthen the Consumer Protection Agency's enforcement tools.

In ECON 101 we learned that the consumer is sovereign! But unsafe toys are not a rational consumer choice!

Poisonous beads and lead painted toys are the byproduct of an unregulated international economy designed by transnational corporations and their free trade accomplices that places a premium on low cost production and devalues quality. Unfortunately, dangerous toys are lining the shelves of your local big box retailer this holiday season.

The on-line title of the Times article has been sanitized to read:" Producer of Poisonous Toy Beads Issues Apology." Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

That begs the real question many consumers are asking this holiday season: can we be sure that the toys we buy for our kids and grand kids won't kill them?

Otherwise as the Kinks' song goes: "It's too late to say your sorry!"

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