All eyes on Chinese toys

The ubiquitous ‘Made in China' mark is rather sorry looking these days. This week toy-maker Mattel ordered its second Chinese product recall in the space of a month, this one involving more than 18m toys imported from the Asian tiger. The problem? The small matter that they may contain lead paint, a substance that can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and headaches in children, and can even kill. A few good reasons why the UK banned the stuff decades ago.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Recalled products include toys from the Pixar movie Cars, as well as Polly Pocket and the dubious-sounding Doggy Daycare. This comes less than a month after a previous recall of 1.5m toys from Mattel's Fisher Price range. Other recent Chinese product scandals include contaminated wheat protein that led to the deaths of cats and dogs in the US; toothpaste that was recalled from luxury hotels after it was found to contain diethylene glycol, a kidney and liver toxin which is used in antifreeze; and faulty tyres that were susceptible to blow-outs.

None of which is great PR for China, a nation whose wealth depends on exports. The pressure to perform is so great that the co-owner of a Chinese Mattel supplier killed himself at the weekend, apparently over the company's initial product recall. Now the Chinese government is understandably keen to make it clear that the right safety measures are being put in place.

We can't help detecting a certain amount of anti-Chinese sentiment in all this. After all, China isn't the only country with supply-chain issues. Just look at the Sunday Times allegations over Philip Green's use of ‘slave labour', or the mistreatment of Bulgarians working for a Cornish supplier to Tesco and Morrisons. It should all be water off a duck's back for the Chinese anyway. Last month, the country's trade surplus stood at more than $24bn, the second-highest figure on record. US politicians may be publicly slamming its safety standards, but they're all too aware that they are as dependent on Chinese products as the Asian giant is on their custom.

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