Brian Wingfield at Forbes Magazine has a story, entitled Toying With China on the recent Senate hearing on toy safety. Wingfield sees the hearing as “having less to do with safety concerns than with ongoing economic disputes with China.” I agree.

Senator Sam Brownback (who not so coincidentally is running for President), told Nancy Nord, the Acting Chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission that, “What I want to hear is for you to say ‘These [unsafe] products are not going to enter our shores,’ He went on to say, “I think you have to just pull a heavy club out and say ‘That’s the way it’s going to be.’

While you are at it Senator Brownback, would you please get someone to say that there will be 1) no more crime, 2) no more car accidents, 3) no more war, 4) no more taxes, 5) no more gossip, 6) no more Entertainment Tonight ragging on Brittany, 7) no more demagoguery. All that would certainly make me feel better.

The article then quotes me as saying, “China right now is the current bugaboo.”

Mattel Chairman Robert Eckert spoke at the hearing and “apologized for the recalls but shifted much of the blame to subcontractors in China,” saying, “We wouldn’t be here if a handful of vendors hadn’t violated our rules.”

I close out the article with the following:

The toy issue is likely to be resolved through market solutions. Harris, who is also an author of the China Law Blog says American companies will have to perform better due diligence, including checking out potential suppliers before doing business with them, examining goods before they leave the factory and getting solid contracts in writing.
“Americans are really going to have to lead the charge by not dealing with bad Chinese companies,” he says.

The toy issue is a politician’s dream come true as it involves “our children,” “our safety,” and the “evil Chinese empire,” but the reality is that this is not really a U.S. government issue. I have heard (but cannot verify) that upwards of 50% of the Chinese companies exporting toys from China were either operating illegally or exporting illegally. At minimum, American companies must make sure the companies with whom they do business in China are legal (though this would not have helped Mattel). For more on what American companies can and should be doing to protect themselves from bad Chinese product, check out CYA: China Outsourcer Protect Thyself.

And though I am always skeptical of the Chinese government’s ability to police the quality of its manufacturers, I do note that a client of ours just yesterday reported the following:

The Xinghu area is under the microscope now. We have one vendor there who informed us they cannot ship our goods because they have not passed an inspection the government made without notice. Their shipments are flagged in Ningbo Customs. They told us the area has many toy mfgs and as such the government has moved into it.

We will see.