THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICES

Mothers and fathers all across the country have been recoiling in horror at the news that some Chinese-made toys they’ve been buying for their little ones contain lead paint. These are not cheapie toys, either – they bear such labels as Mattel and Disney, and they’re sold in Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, and other mainline stores. Why in the world would these corporations allow lead paint on products for children?

Mothers and fathers all across the country have been recoiling in horror at the news that some Chinese-made toys they’ve been buying for their little ones contain lead paint. These are not cheapie toys, either – they bear such labels as Mattel and Disney, and they’re sold in Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, and other mainline stores. Why in the world would these corporations allow lead paint on products for children?

Can you say: Profits?

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For years, U.S. companies have rushed to China to get the toys they sell to us, because in China, labor is dirt cheap, environmental rules are ignored, and product safety regulations are not enforced. In other words, by taking shortcuts on the manufacturing of toys, the corporations get the products on the cheap, yet still sell them at relatively high prices to us – that’s a shortcut to big profits.

In fact, this is the Wal-Mart model that has been hailed as the Glorious Global Model – go to China for your products and constantly pressure suppliers there to keep cutting costs… no matter what the ultimate cost. The mantra of globalization is cheap-cheap-cheap. And lead paint is far cheaper than unleaded. Never mind that lead is toxic, especially for small children – it is linked to mental retardation and behavioral problems.

Do you really think that Wal-Mart, Mattel, and the rest don’t know this? Of course they do. Do you think they were innocents, totally unaware of what their Chinese suppliers have been using for paint? The best you can say about them is that the profiteers didn’t care enough to ask, didn’t care enough to test. Just get the product cheap, that’s all that matters.

The flow of dangerous products from China is not a surprise, nor is it the fault of the Chinese system. It is the inevitable result of a corporate globalization system that mistakes low prices for low cost. Someone always pays.

“Why Lead In Toy Paint? It’s Cheaper,” The New York Times, September 11, 2007

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