After apologizing to the parents and children of the world for importing potentially dangerous toys manufactured in China, Mattel apologized again last week … but this time the apology was to CHINA!
the world’s largest toy maker, apologized in China yesterday for its
recalls of nearly 20 million Chinese-made toys this summer.
According to news accounts, Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel’s executive
vice president for worldwide operations, apologized to China for
harming the reputation of Chinese manufacturers. ( NY Times)
Mattel apologized to China for “harming the reputation of Chinese manufacturers” by recalling dangerous and defective toys made by Chinese manufacturers!
There is a word for that kind of behavior, isn’t there? A word they use in China? Can anyone think of it?
American politicians and others reacted in turn with criticism that
Mattel was kowtowing to China, where the company manufactures 65
percent of its toys, many in partnerships with Chinese vendors.
Kowtow. Yes, that’s it!
Of course, there is more to the story than that. For instance, official Chinese accounts of Mr. Debrowski’s mission vary from what Mattel itself says:
Mattel challenged the news accounts of Mr. Debrowski’s meeting in
Beijing, saying that they had mischaracterized his remarks. Mattel sent
Mr. Debrowski to the meeting to apologize to consumers in China, not to
manufacturers there, a spokeswoman said.
Mattel said in a
statement: “Since Mattel toys are sold the world over, Mattel
apologized to the Chinese today just as it has wherever its toys are
Mr. Debrowski’s remarks were not intended to address harm
that has come to the reputation of Chinese-made products as Mattel and
other companies recalled millions of toys, the spokeswoman said.
Hmm. Well, I can see how that misunderstanding could arise. Kind of like the way official Chinese accounts of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre differ from those of … pretty much everyone else on Earth. The Chinese government lives in its own little world.
Dangerous toys? What dangerous toys? Actually, China has a point:
In a draft of the remarks that Mr. Debrowski planned to make at the
meeting, he clarified that 17.4 million of the nearly 20 million units
recalled this summer were magnetic toys. Those toys, though produced in
China, were recalled because of a design mistake by Mattel.
does not hold Chinese manufacturers responsible for the design in
relation to the recalled magnet toys,” according to Mr. Debrowski’s
planned remarks, which Mattel released.
When Mattel recalled the
magnetic toys in mid-August, the company said that those recalls were
not caused by Chinese vendors, separating them from the more than 80
other styles of toys that were recalled because they were tainted with
See Mattel’s response and the text of Debrowski’s remarks on the Mattel website.
Mattel still relies on their Chinese vendors to manufacture their toys and no doubt will continue to do so. Presumably they also need to maintain the goodwill of the Chinese government to continue to do business there. So this “maybe an apology, maybe not” exercise was important for Mattel. The magnet toys were not in any way the fault of the Chinese vendors. As for the lead paint …
On the other side, it is to China’s advantage to receive Mattel’s apology. Months of attention to various dangerous and defective products coming out of China have damaged the country’s reputation.
BEIJING ( Reuters) – China highlighted Mattel’s apology over its recall
of huge numbers of toys on Monday to press Beijing’s claim that its
exports are generally safe and foreign politicians and media have
unfairly hyped quality scares.
According to Eric Johnson, a management professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth:
By emphasizing a public apology by Mattel, China gains a public relations advantage, experts said. “This is all about saving face and a private apology wouldn’t have done that for China. They really needed this public apology,” Johnson said. (Washington Post)
See also comments by Rick Newman at his Flowchart blog on USNews.com:
Mattel messed up, but now the company is bringing a welcome degree of
transparency to an issue that seems complex and murky to most of us. So
hurry up and pay attention, before the politicians and fearmongers
muddle it up.
I guess the world really is flat.