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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Summer of Recalls

    Toy recalls from major brands have been front page fodder this July and August.    First it was Thomas the Tank Engine, then Dora, now Barbie.  Even Elmo -- Elmo! -- was touched by the lead recall.  It seems that no beloved character is immune.  Well, almost none.  Toys manufactured in the U.S. or Europe are more likely to be safe, because they have greater quality control in manufacturing.  They are also more expensive and harder to obtain.    
    The recalls illustrate the tension between dueling aspects of American culture and expectations.  Americans love to buy cheap goods and lots of them.  If you need proof, I present to you Exhibit A: Wal-Mart.  Exhibit B: Target.  Exhibit C: Toys 'R Us.   And so on.  Consumers know that many of these cheap goods are of low quality, but we still expect certain aspects of first world quality.  Or, to put it differently, our standards may have lowered but we still have standards.  For example, consumers expect no lead paint in their toys (lead paint has been banned for use on toys and furniture in the U.S. since 1977; lead ingestion is extremely dangerous to children).   It seems clear that Mattel's oversight of its Chinese factories was lacking.  In response to the second major recall, Mattel announced that it will now test every batch of toys (I am not quite sure what this means, but it sure sounds good).      
    The brands that sell Chinese manufactured toys have an interest in rebuilding trust with consumers.  But will consumers, who lack information about Chinese manufacturers and are wary of company promises avoid Chinese-made toys?  And, given the structure of the toy market in the United States, do they actually have that choice?  According to the New York Times yesterday, toy makers in the U.S. are already seeing an uptick in volume.  Just wait until Christmas.  Unless, of course, the "summer of recalls" is forgotten by Thanksgiving.

Posted by Alexandra Lahav on August 16, 2007 at 03:35 PM | Permalink

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