Sunday, June 24, 2007

China or Corporations: Who's the Real Culprit?

In recent weeks, China has come under fire for exporting various products such as children's toys to the US that do not pass safety standards. Many people have blamed China for this problem and are even promoting anti-China hysteria, letting the real culprits off the hook.

In one recent highly publicized instance, wooden Thomas the Tank Engine trains were painted with lead paint.

RC2, the company that makes that particular Thomas the Tank Engine model, is based in Oak Brook, Illinois, however. It receives a license from HIT entertainment, which owns the Thomas the Tank Engine rights.

When RC2 decided to outsource production to China, surely its executives and mangers did not fail to oversee the operations there, as they are now claiming.

Since 1977 when lead-based paint was outlawed, 68 children's toy products have been recalled because of the use of lead paint. According to the Chicago Tribune, 99% of those products were manufactured in Mexico, India, Taiwan, and China. Other companies who have been forced to recall products manufactured in other countries include Hasbro and Mattel.

But this issue isn't about those countries or the workers in those countries. It is about private multinational corporations cutting corners and hiding from US federal safety regulations in other countries to ensure high profits. These private multinational companies purposely broke US law and endangered our children to maximize profits – the driving force of capitalism.

Globalization policies such as weakened public oversight of the market and "free trade" agreements (like NAFTA) promote the dismantling of safety and health regulations. Ultra-right anti-regulation orthodoxy (or free market fundamentalism) advanced by Bush and the Republicans further aids the threat posed by private corporations that produce dangerous toys by creating an environment in which private corporations have a free hand.

The US should work with the Chinese government in a cooperative manner to boost health and safety regulations and enforcement in all countries to identify and punish the scofflaws who endanger consumers for profit.

--Joel Wendland

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