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China and the lead paint issue

It’s been a problem now for some time; toys and other stuff imported from China are turning up in large quantities to be contaminated in some way or the other. The latest issue is about toys sold by Mattel that is contaminated and had to be recalled, causing a severe worry to parents and causing a large revenue drop to Mattel (which is now looking for new vendors outside China). This was even more problematic since Mattel had a good reputation for quality, not something that they can claim now. From further investigations carried out by assorted media, as long as the low cost manufacturing in China story runs, it is impossible to handle such quality problems by inspections in the US; quality can only be built, something that China needs to move much faster:

Brightly colored children’s bracelets and necklaces line the display case of a Chinese manufacturer in this factory town. Adorned with mini school buses, sandals and other charms, the jewelry sits ready to be sold to foreign and domestic buyers. It also contains lead. While the U.S. government in July issued a recall for similar items, branded as Essentials for Kids, officials at the factory said they knew nothing of it. And because the CJ Accessories factory sells the jewelry to different companies with different brands, identical lead-tainted products could be on store shelves under other names.
Three decades after the federal government significantly toughened regulations on lead in children’s products, American companies have yet to find a way to successfully screen the flood of imported products for the toxic metal. The federal watchdog charged with ensuring they do so is overwhelmed and often ineffective. And the growing list of lead recalls of children’s products underscores how the metal, slathered on with paint or mixed in with other raw materials, is more pervasive than many American consumers ever imagined.

Given that it is going to be very difficult to move out of the low-cost manufacturing regime, especially with most such manufacturing capabilities already having moved to low cost countries; the responsibility for such measures now rests with the manufacturers. As part of their cost accounting, they need to be held responsible for the quality of these products and should include regular and systematic investigation and quality control. It would be very bad indeed if somebody was affected by these products, much worse so if it was a child. It is just not possible to do a quality control at the US borders, even with the best of intentions.

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