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Columns

September 29, 2007

Toy safety a casualty of global economy

It’s one thing to know that nearly 87 percent of toys imported by the United States come from China and another to see what that looks like in your child’s closet.

I did a quick scan of toy labels around my house the other day. Every plastic toy was made in China, but so were more-expensive, high-quality toys such as Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys and wooden puzzles.

Among the few made-in-the-USA toys I could find were inexpensive cardboard-and-plastic board games, including my 3-year-old’s favorite, Candy Land, and a dollar-store Dora the Explorer puzzle in a flimsy box.

Soon, most of these toys will cost more. Spurred by safety concerns about toys imported from China, American toy makers are expected to raise prices by up to 10 percent next year.

This should come as no surprise, since someone has to pay for the testing procedures these companies are scrambling to implement in the wake of recent toy recalls, and why should the CEOs begin cutting into their own profits now? That would defeat the purpose of outsourcing production in the first place.

During a Sept. 12 congressional hearing on toy safety standards, the CEO of Mattel Inc. admitted the company could have done a better job supervising the Chinese subcontractors responsible for 21 million recalled toys.

Meanwhile, China signed an agreement prohibiting the use of lead paint on toys exported to the United States.

So, the made-in-China toys will get safer, and people will grumble a little about paying more, but they’ll still buy the toys, and the CEOs will keep getting richer. My hope is that somewhere along the way, concerns about toy safety will raise awareness about the consequences of becoming a nation of consumers rather than producers.

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