China has taken steps to restore confidence in its manufacturing industry, after a series of embarrassing product recalls and alerts over safety. American giants like Mattel and Pixar Sarge have withdrawn scores of items because toys had been coated with lead paint.
Lead has been linked to health problems in children, including brain damage. Under pressure from American consumers, China has signed an agreement in Washington, promising to ban the use of lead paint on toys bound for the US. American toy factories have been banned from using it since 1978.
The vice-minister in charge of China’s Quality Control, Inspection and Quarantine, Chuangzhong Wei said: “It is unfair to doubt ‘Made in China’ and Chinese products. They have great sales around the world and are extensively accepted by international society, which cannot be realised without good quality.”
Scientists at the laboratories in Guangdong province – where the majority of toy factories are based – stress that they maintain the strict standards expected in the countries they export to. The Head of the Chemicals inspection unit, Huang Lina, said: “We have similar equipment, testing methods and procedures here. We strictly follow the requirements of American inspections standards.” Some senior officials say the controversy over Chinese goods is politically motivated and unfair.
They blame misleading statistics, a lack of communication, national standards that differ from country to country for some of the product safety scares – affecting not only toys, but also pet-food and toothpaste.
Lin Zhongjian, the general manager of the Ball Star Toy company said: “With every kind of product, we cannot be one hundred percent certain that it will pass the grade, even with stricter and stricter quality controls. Even with luxury cars like Mercedes-Benz, they are not perfect and have had some recalls. The problem from our perspective – the toy makers – is that both sides should be looking at where the origin of the problem is, and not one side wielding a stick and killing us by branding everything Chinese ‘problem products’.”
China makes 80% of the world’s toys. The latest agreement signed in Washington promises joint efforts between the US and China to increase the two countries’ understanding of safety standards among manufacturers and exporters.