Plastic Politics

Toy safety follies

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In August, Mattel won an exception to new testing requirements that Congress imposed in 2008 after several toy recalls. (See "Dangerous Toys, Strange Bedfellows," June.) Six of the recalls that sparked the push for more regulation involved Chinese toys made by Mattel or its subsidiary Fisher Price.

Small toymakers were blindsided by expensive third-party testing and labeling requirements in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The law treats domestic companies producing small batches of toys, clothes, or jewelry for kids using low-risk materials such as wood and cotton as though they were indistinguishable from massive plastic importers like Mattel. Testing can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per toy model, and many small producers fear enforcement of the law would put them out of business. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, charged with enforcing the law, has extended piecemeal stays of execution for used books, bikes, and other items. The agency also allowed a one-year grace period before it started enforcing the testing rules.

While most small toymakers had no idea the law was coming down the pike until it was too late, Mattel spent $1 million lobbying for a provision permitting companies to test their toys in their own government-approved, "firewalled" labs. As luck would have it, Mattel already operates several of its own toy testing labs, including ones in Mexico, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and California. Mattel received approval to test its own toys in those labs at the end of August, just as the grace period ended and its smaller competitors had to start using third-party testers.

So a law aimed at checking Mattel's risky behavior left all the other players in the toy market worse off. Meanwhile, Mattel now enjoys a cost advantage on testing and a new government-sponsored barrier to competition.

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  1. Someone always gains an unfair advantage whenever the government gets involved. Does anyone even bother anymore to contemplate probable outcomes resulting from present decisions. The Mattel people may be thinking themselves very clever having not merely dodged the government’s sword, but to have also manipulated the government to slash it’s competitors in it’s place. Brilliant, for now, only problem is that every time the government uses the sword they both get bigger, the sword sharper, and the government less likely to show restraint and more aggressive when using the sword. When government eventually returns and mercilessly hacks Mattel to pieces, the temporary advantage gained making the monster won’t seem so brilliant.

    1. Well, I think that government always tries to improve our lives! Obama does everything to make your life easier. However there is a truth at both sides

  2. I get so busy arguing on forums with other people over my he-man figures and how mattel should add more articulation here, better molds there that I forget to ask where are things coming from and how are they being created or supervised.

    Just some time ago, a toymaker was accused of knowingly selling lead paint-tainted toys and they were -knowingly- doing it since 2003! It just so happened Mattel got into this position… a Fortune 500 company who is the #1 toy maker in the US. Other smaller, underdogs could make much better use of it (which isn’t to say that is right but still).

  3. The amount of recalls in the Toy industry is so high. I believe it isnt acceptable for so many recalls in this day and age.

  4. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that!

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  9. Maybe we should build a fence and either keep all of the companies in the US developing their products here or if they build and test them in other countries we can tax the difference on the wage spread? This is CRAZY!

  10. Of course the big guys are lobbying to put the small guys out of business. If you build a fence around the US and monitor the big guys screwing the tax-payers of the US by shipping jobs and development to other countries and then using the power of lobbying and diverting taxes no wonder why we are in such a big hole, come on let David play with Goliath.

  11. If your big like the big guys you use leverage like political lobbying and other tactics to hurt the small toy guys. This is why I’m on the fence with this, these same companies funnel huge amount of money outside the US to avoid taxes and this is CRAZY! Maybe we need to build a fence around the USA and if companies use these tactics and other means then we can tax them more for the products they bring in to the country. Why is it Goliath always has to play unfair with David?

  12. If your big like the big guys you use leverage like political lobbying and other tactics to hurt the small toy guys. This is why I’m on the fence with this, these same companies funnel huge amount of money outside the US to avoid taxes and this is CRAZY! Maybe we need to build a fence around the USA and if companies use these tactics and other means then we can tax them more for the products they bring in to the country. Why is it Goliath always has to play unfair with David?

  13. I can’t believe Mattel spent $1 million lobbying this thing. What is the reason behind this?

  14. There’s no doubt that you need more oversight the toy testing process but its inevitable that new “protection” passes the big corporations will lobby their way to hurt their competition

  15. Toy test is very important, but Mattel test its own toys, which can be safe? I was very skeptical.Thanks for the nice blog.

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