Mattel in China: Ethics & Prudence

Here’s an interesting story from today’s NY Times: Dancing Elmo Smackdown

SHENZHEN, China, July 19 — Inside Mattel’s sprawling test lab here, scores of technicians are doing their worst: setting Chicken Dance Elmo dolls on fire, wrecking Hot Wheels cars and yanking at the limbs of Dora the Explorer. The lab workers are paid to break toys, pick apart their innards, and analyze the raw materials that go into them.
The goal is to protect young children from the serious harm that poor construction or dangerous components can bring. But it is also to protect Mattel, the world’s biggest toy maker, from what is increasingly viewed as the risk of doing business in China.

The story also mentions Prof. Prakash Sethi, of the City University of New York (actually, though the story doesn’t mention it, Sethi is president of CUNY’s International Center for Corporate Accountability — I presented at a conference there last month). The story notes that Sethi has worked as a consultant/inspector for Mattel for about a decade.

Mr. Sethi would make unannounced visits to Mattel’s factories and vendors’ plants. He insisted that he would only monitor Mattel if the toy maker let him post his reports publicly and uncensored.

One other interesting thing to note about this story: the number of timest the word “ethics” is used in the story? Zero. Nice example of how, sometimes, we don’t actually need to use the e-word.

Update: here’s a video of a session on Mattel at the aforementioned conference: Intervention at the Factory Level: The Mattel Experience

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