As the grand celebration of Christmas Day approaches, people all over the world once again get caught up in the festive atmosphere that embraces the traditional spending spree. And being a time for children and gift giving, it's almost a given that most of us will be buying a toy at this holiday season. The chances that the toy chosen will carry a "Made-in-China" label are high as more than 80 percent of the world's toys are now made here.
But in the past few months the words China and toys were not a happy combination. China boasts a 60-percent market share of the global total in terms of toy production, yet Chinese toy makers are now in the grips of an icy period, where their reputation is being hammered by repeated incidents of toy recalls and allegations of unsafe merchandise.
In August, due to complaints that small magnets attached to toys could be removed and swallowed, with fatal consequences, and that there was an excessive level of lead paint found in a range of toys, the American toy giant Mattel Inc., on three separate occasions, recalled a total of 21 million toys that had been exported from China. Once reputed Chinese products were embroiled in a scandal and huge damage was done to the country's image.
The Chinese Government quickly responded with unified efforts made by state departments involved. A special task force to oversee China's product quality and food safety of central level has been set up to initiate inspections all over the country. China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine probed into the Mattel incident through contacts with its foreign counterpart, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Meanwhile, China's Ministry of Commerce sent a surveillance group to the manufacturing base where these toys had been made, in Dongguan and Shenzhen, southern Guangdong Province, for further investigation.
In late September, Mattel made a public apology to China for the damages to its reputation as a result of a spate of toy recalls, clarifying that most of the recalls are because of Mattel's own design flaws (in relation to the small magnets), rather than a failure of Chinese manufacturing, and Mattel should accept the major share of responsibility for the incident. In fact, only 15 percent of the toys recalled were related to lead poison concerns.
Nevertheless, this incident prompted a thorough overhaul of the quality of Chinese toys and a period of intensive inspection. Toy makers in Xiamen, coastal Fujian Province, for example, are now required to submit safety guarantee books to the local quality watchdog. From January to October, Xiamen-made toy products worth $14.44 million were exported, an increase of 105 percent over the corresponding period last year. There was no recall.
In southern Guangdong Province, where more than 1.5 million workers are engaged in the toy-making industry in 5,000 manufacturing plants, the export permits of 764 factories had been revoked or withheld due to various quality problems in the recent campaign. Another 690 are required to improve product quality within a given period. Up to October, toy exports in Guangdong had hit $4.94 billion, an increase of 22.9 percent year on year, marking an 18.6 percent higher growth rate.
The quality control seems to have succeeded as Byran Ellis, Chairman of Toy Industries Europe, assured European consumers in late November of the quality of Made-in-China toys.
As consumer confidence restores and lost toy orders are resumed, it is hoped this Christmas will be a merry one for both consumers worldwide and Chinese manufacturers.