We get what we pay for

By Tim Wright | September 19, 2007

Look! What is that in the sky? It's a bird...it's a plane...NO...it's Super Toxic Man-and he's ready to poison America's children!

The coatings industry's Achilles heel is making headlines again and this time parents and young kids are furious over the recent news that toy manufacturer Mattel has recalled nearly 19 million Chinese-made toys including some Barbie and Batman toys, Polly Pocket dolls and 436,000 toy cars containing lead paint. That was only two weeks after yanking nearly a million of its Fischer Price toys for preschoolers.

The tainted toys are another blow to China's crumbling reputation as an exporter coming on the heels of the poisoned dog-food scandal earlier this year that sickened hundreds of animals in the U.S., and the Chinese cough syrup laced with antifreeze that killed a hundred in Panama, while Chinese-made toothpaste was banned in South America.

There are calls for the government to ban or better inspect the flood of dirt-cheap imports from China. But with 40% of all U.S. consumer goods coming from China, that's easier said than done. Using Mattel as a barometer to evaluate just how dependant American consumer culture has become on China, the world's largest toy retailer gets approximately 65% of its products from the country.

So where did the paint come from that was used to coat these toys? According to reports the "best friend" of one of Mattel's major Chinese suppliers sold his friend lead-based paint, which in turn made its way to the toys imported by Mattel. (The betrayed friend, Zhang Shuhong, who was co-owner of the company committed suicide when he learned his workers had used toxic lead paint and his company was on the verge of collapse.)

While we are quick to blame the Chinese for less than ethical business practices, it seems the companies such as Mattel using or importing Chinese goods are just as much to blame for looking the other way. More often it seems Western companies choose to acquire goods and materials manufactured in China because the cost of labor and regulation there appeals to the drive for quick profits over safety and quality.

However, in the end, there is no cutting corners. In the end, we always get what we pay for.

Tim Wright