This week's recall of millions of Mattel manufactured toys laced with lead paint has raised a lot of finger-pointing – almost exclusively at China.
Mattel executives blamed subcontractors in China for refusing to follow its "strict" guidelines on product safety. One executive, in a report on MSNBC last night, said the privately-owned subcontractor sought to cut corners and bought paint that was not on a Mattel approved list. Media accounts went on to blame the Chinese government for lack of oversight and enforcement of safety standards.
Well, I blame Mattel. And I blame safety rules weakened here by a right-wing administration that hates "big government" interference and has instituted a voluntary process of allowing big business to regulate itself.
We don't live in China. While we can talk with China, impose tough trade barriers, and the like, we can't really make China do anything. Sure the Chinese government has an obligation to do its best to ensure product safety, and that hasn't been successful of late. Recently beefed-up safety and health regulations and enforcement procedures there, however, is a good start. And the country's effort to strengthen workers rights to join and organize unions might also be a good step forward.
The point is that Mattel, one of the largest and most profitable multinational corporations in the world, has the main responsibility for the safety of the products it decides to sell. And that doesn't end by providing a list of guidelines to subcontractors.
The fact is Mattel put those products on shelves in toy stores in the US. Mattel failed to test its products (as far as we know) to ensure safety and put our children at risk. Mattel sought to cut corners and increase profits by turning production over to unscrupulous subcontractors who pay low wages to non-union, underpaid workers and who flout environmental and health rules. It went to far away places specifically to avoid whatever is left of public safety and health standards here in the US.
Mattel shouldn't pretend that, like US consumers, it too has been victimized by a small-potatoes subcontractor in China. That's nonsense. Mattel has to accept responsibility for its actions. So far it has refused to do so. Class-action lawsuit anyone?
Additionally, at least part of the blame rests on the shoulders of the Bush administration for creating a climate in which our government, which we rely on to tell us when products are unsafe or unhealthy, just doesn't do its job anymore. Recalls have been made voluntary. Health alerts are advisory. Industry insiders have been put in charge of oversight.
Meanwhile, our own food supply has been tainted by E. Coli and mad cow disease and other dangerous contaminants. Miracle drugs like Vioxx that were approved by our own agencies have proven dangerous. Pesticides made by Dow Chemical and used by multinational corporations like Dole Fresh Foods and Standard Fruit on their plantations in Latin America have quietly contaminated the US food supply with little clamor from the US media or pundits who in recent days have become concerned about product safety.
So before we go pointing fingers at China, let's take a look at what we can control: what happens in this country. We need an administration less worried about pointing fingers at China, and more focused on the job of testing imported products, regulating the use of poisonous materials, and forcing corporations to play by the rules.