THE SHIFTINESS OF TOY MORALITY

Remember last fall when the top honchos of toy corporations were rushing to the media with tug-at-your-heart promises that they would get the lead out of the playthings they were importing from China?

Remember last fall when the top honchos of toy corporations were rushing to the media with tug-at-your-heart promises that they would get the lead out of the playthings they were importing from China?

The public was furious that these giant marketers had so carelessly allowed poisons to be in children’s toys, and congress was threatening to mandate new regulatory controls. Oh, cried the CEOs, no need for that, because we’ll fix this appalling oversight ourselves. The top man at Toys-R-Us put this poignant exclamation point to his personal promise of reform: “I have to be able to put my head on the pillow and say, ‘I’ve done everything I can.’”

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Now that the storm of publicity has subsided, however, the corporate concern for our children has given way to the business-as-usual concern for the corporate bottom line. Take the toy marketer, Mattel Inc. Under public scrutiny last year, CEO Robert Eckert took the moral high road, solemnly swearing that his firm “will do the right thing.” Yet a Mattel toy medical kit was recently found to have lead in a plastic part – and the corporation definitely has not done the right thing. It has not informed consumers nor issued a nationwide recall, much less volunteered to stop using the part, which contains eight times the federal limit for lead in paint.

Instead, Mattel is using legalistic loopholes to do the wrong thing. It’s lawyers point out that federal limits on lead apply to paint, not to lead in the plastic itself. Besides, they retort, not every scientist agrees that a child can ingest lead by sucking on plastic, so let’s just wait and see

Not only should congress ban any lead in any toy, but it also should require that testing of toy toxicity should be conducted on the families of the industry’s own top executives and lawyers. That’ll speed ’em up!

“Disney to Do Its Own Tests of Character Toys for Lead Paint,” The New York Times, September 10, 2007

“Lawmakers Say Mattel Broke Word on Lead,” The New York Times, January 30, 2008

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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