Monday, November 19, 2007

California to sue Mattel, Toys R Us

Finally some action against toy makers who sold toys with lead levels in their paint beyond permissible levels. Until now, most of the toy makers recalled the toxic products, offered a refund, and generally gave the impression that they thought that their duty to the consumer was over. The new measure proposed may however not be enough.

The California attorney general and Los Angeles city attorney said they would file a lawsuit today against Mattel Inc., Toys R Us Inc. and 18 other companies, accusing them of making or selling products that contain "unlawful quantities of lead", according to this report in the Los Angeles Times.

The moves in California comes even as toys made in the US are facing a strong revival, according to this report by AFP.

The suit, to be filed in Alameda County Superior Court under California's Proposition 65 law, would force manufacturers and retailers to adopt procedures for inspecting products to make sure they are safe, according to the report. Barring that, they would be required to warn consumers that the items contained chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects, it added.

The move does not however contain stiff penalties for toy manufacturers many of whom have already cut corners to cut costs, including not monitoring adequately their Chinese operations and their suppliers.

Not unexpectedly, Mattel, the lead defendant in the lawsuit, said it welcomed the attorney general's involvement and added that it would be helpful for the entire toy industry, according to the report in the Los Angeles Times.

If the California proposal moves forward in its current form, toy companies will not be under any threat or penalty to make sure their procedures are fool-proof across their supply chain. There is nothing to prevent them from making promises, and continue their delinquency. The state of California is ill-equipped to monitor the toy makers’ supply chain right up to Chinese suppliers to ensure that procedures are followed.

Passing the buck from manufacturers to retailers will also not help. The retailer does not contribute in contaminating the paint on a product.

Rather than go ahead with this measure, that seems more populist than designed to help users, the states in the US and the federal government should work on a proposal to give the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington more teeth. Currently most of the recalls have been voluntary. The CPSC should be given the funds and the powers to check toys and order their recall.

It is nice to know that Mattel and Co. want to improve their procedures, but users will be happier to know that the end product is being actually checked.

Related article:

Chinese toy recalls - does anybody care ?

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