07/12/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Chinese toys tainted by lead or made by child labour

China makes 80 per cent of the world’s toys, but it has come under attack for its poor safety record (toxic materials and unsafe working conditions). Even standards body has been criticised for corruption. Exports drop.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Rampant corruption is undermining safety standards in mainland China's toy factories, which meet 80 per cent of global demand but that could be slapped with an embargo.

According to the South China Morning Post, Chinese toy manufacturers blame quality control auditors employed to enforce standards for receiving bribes in order to turn a blind eye to the increasingly stringent safety standards demanded by foreign retailers.

Corruption between manufacturers and auditors is so bad that the International Council of Toy Industries' Care Foundation (ICTI)—a worldwide industry programme to promote ethical manufacturing—has sacked about 20 of the 145 mainland auditors so far this year, or 14 per cent of the total.

"Bribery and wages are not the only problems," said Ian Anderson, vice-president of the foundation's Asian operations, who spoke yesterday at a seminar. "We have found child labour cases every month."

The problem is not new. In 2007, the United States banned the sale of toys made in China for toy multinational Mattel because of excess lead in paint used in products for toddlers. At least, two million toys were recalled.

On 31 October 2007, Guangdong authorities stripped or suspended the manufacturing licence of 764 plants because of safety concerns. They also set a deadline for 690 plants to improve manufacturing and product quality.

In the last few years, accusations of child labour have also surfaced. In some plants, children are often hired, ostensibly enrolled in early school vocational training in which they are underpaid and forced to work in unsafe conditions.

About 2,300 factories employing 1.7 million workers worldwide have enrolled in the ICTI programme, a set of best practices that are recognised in the US and in several European countries.

However, the increasingly tough standards are causing problems of their own.

Lawrence Chan Wing-luen, chairman of toymaker Wynnewood Corp, who has been in the industry for 37 years, said some manufacturers have been tempted to save money by ensuring positive reports by bribing auditors rather than improving conditions in their factories.

He is critical of the excessive power such officials exerts, and would like to see greater control exerted on them.

Chinese manufacturers are afraid that new scandals might negatively impact exports, already reeling from the worldwide crisis. Last year, the mainland exported US.78 billion worth of toys, 10 per cent less than in 2008.

About 3,000 manufacturers export toys, down from a peak of about 8,500 in 2007 as the industry grappled with toy recalls and safety issues.

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