WASHINGTON – The chief of besieged toymaker Mattel said Wednesday his company has revamped its toy inspection process resulting from a summer-wide recall of lead-tainted toys and vowed it would be very unlikely a recall would emerge again.
Mattel CEO Robert Eckert and executives from Toys “R” Us testified in a congressional hearing resulting from the recall of 25 million Chinese-manufactured toys that were contaminated with lead paint.
Eckert told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that hired vendors in China and some of their subcontractors did not properly test for lead in toys.
“We were let down,and so we let you down,” Eckert told the subcommittee. “The vendors who manufacture our products are contractually obligated to comply with the same safety standards that apply to the products that Mattel manufactures in its own plants.”
“These recalls have been a personal disappointment to me,” Eckert said. “As an industry leader…we are by no means perfect.”
The agency in charge of protecting consumers was also under fire at the standing-room only hearing.
Nancy Nord,chairwoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission told the subcommittee that her office is understaffed and lacks the funding to properly inspect lead paint in toys.
“This situation cannot continue,” Nord said.
The commission's testing facility is in a 1950s missile testing site where some of the buildings don't make proper code,Nord said.
On Tuesday the CPSC announced a new agreement with China that calls for immediate action to eliminate the use of lead paint on toys,although a ban on using the toxic metal in children's toys has been in effect since 1978.
Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois,in a back-and-forth series of questions and answers with Nord,said he doubted that the new agreement between the U.S. and China would produce improved standards. He said the safety agency may be lacking the willpower to deal with the problem.
“Are you saying that the Chinese have now adopted a new and different standard when it comes to lead paint?” he asked Nord.
Nord's response: “I think,sir,that is a question you really need to put to the Chinese.”
Currently,the CPSC does not have authority to inspect Chinese facilities for tainted toys,Nord said.
In 2006,the value of U.S. imports had risen to $1.8 trillion,a 15-fold increase from the safety agency's inception in 1978. The CPSC employees 401 people today,less than half since its beginning.
Sen. Sam Brownback,a Kansas Republican,said he was disappointed in the safety commission's attempts to properly test for lead-tainted toys.
“‘Made in China' has now become a warning label,” Brownback said. “It's time to end the status quo of ‘business as usual' with China.”