Mattel reiterates safety measures

Mattel has once again reinforced its safety message ahead of the looming New York Toy Fair.
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Last year’s problems have made company leaders determined to do things better and keep consumers’ trust, Mattel officials said in interviews last week.

“We did not monitor the quality of production as closely as we should have,” said Kevin Curran, general manager and senior vice president of Fisher-Price.

The recalls and the ensuing criticism the company faced were tough to confront, Curran said. “It was very disturbing for our employees, no question about it,” he said.

“It takes a tremendously long time to get the reputation we have,” said Kitty Pilarz, director of worldwide product safety and corporate product safety for Mattel and Fisher-Price. “I think we learned last year that it doesn’t take much to take a hit on that reputation.”

The firm responded to the recalls in a variety of ways, tightening controls with their supply chain and testing, and re-examining internal policies.

Pilarz said company officials now use a three-step process with production. All paint is tested before it is used on toys. Testing and unannounced inspections have been stepped up at each stage of the process. And every production run of finished toys is tested to ensure compliance before being sold to consumers.

“Part of making safe toys is evolving standards,” Pilarz said. “I think that’s because the toy business is very innovative.”

Mattel’s chairman and chief executive officer, Bob Eckert, last year created a corporate responsibility organisation that reports directly to Eckert, providing additional oversight on quality issues.

Mattel is still facing some pressure from critics, and some lawsuits have been filed against the company over the recalls. Dozens of members of Congress recently signed a letter to Mattel calling for the company to eliminate all lead from the toys it sells.

The lead-paint problems that centered on factories in China brought more attention to the fact that about 80 percent of toys sold in US stores come from China. About 65 percent of Mattel’s toys are made in China, but unlike many of its competitors, it owns many of the factories it uses there.

“The company had to move production to low-cost places so we could be competitive and survive,” said Curran.

While its manufacturing has migrated overseas, Mattel has hundreds of its own employees in Asia, he said. “The truth is, we have a large staff on the ground there,” he said.

Curran said that when the toy recalls were at their peak last year, “our sales did suffer for a while.” Though he would not disclose figures, Curran said Fisher-Price recorded its best-ever profits in 2007, and he said he was sure the numbers would have been even higher if not for the recalls.

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