The Myths and Misconceptions of Chinese Toys

It has been a long, hot summer and a difficult autumn for the toy industry, with an incredible amount of media coverage and political interest -- on both sides of the Pacific -- in the product design and quality issues that have become apparent. As we enter into the 2007 holiday season, I thought this would be a good opportunity to provide some perspective on all this from the standpoint of someone who cares deeply about the toy industry and who has been a part of it all his life.

There have been a number of product recalls, for a variety of reasons, and because of them, both the U.S. toy industry and our Chinese suppliers have taken it on the chin. Some of this is deserved, but a lot is not. As inevitably happens with issues involving our children and their health and safety, a lot of mistaken information has been passed around and blown up beyond all recognition.

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Let me make it very clear: the U.S. toy industry puts first, and has always put first, the health and safety of the children who play with our toys. Even one injury is too many, and the industry, through our Toy Industry Association, is doing exactly the right thing to ensure that our products are as safe as they can possibly be. I am not an apologist for the toy industry or for China, nor an official spokesman for either; but I would like to straighten out what I think are some pretty broadly held misconceptions.

Misconception: Product design and quality issues are endemic in the toy industry. Fact: All of the products recalled so far in 2007 amount to about nine-tenths of 1% of the 3 billion toys sold in the United States each year. There are many hundreds of toy brands (500 in the Toy Industry Association), but only four accounted for 75% of all the products recalled. And just two of those four accounted for about 54% of the toys recalled for excess lead in their paint.

Misconception: China is one of the main culprits in all these recalls; it is their fault that our children are in danger. Fact: That is simply not true. Companies manufacture, import and sell products; countries do not. The Consumer Product Safety Commission rightly holds those who order the toys and bring them into the country responsible for the safety of those toys. Equally important is the fact that about 74% of the toys recalled were for design-related issues, not manufacturing-related ones. The designs are the primary responsibility of those who order the toys, not only of those who manufacture them. Let us take responsibility for our actions and not blame others.

Misconception: China is responsible for the loss of American jobs in the toy industry. Fact: Again, not true; China is simply the latest country where production has concentrated so that its cheaper labor costs can translate into lower prices to consumers. Toy production started moving out of the United States over 50 years ago, going first to Japan, then to Taiwan and Korea and other Asian countries. It was in the mid-1980s that China began its export of toys.

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