NEW YORK—Almost every toy at the American International Toy Fair is at least partly made in China, from mini luxury car models to Halloween glow sticks. Although many toy companies manufacture a few lines of products in the U.S., they still rely heavily on Chinese manufacturing for the majority of their products.
“The truth of the matter is there’s really no way to compete in a domestic environment with the kinds of products that we do,” said Gene Khasminsky, chief play officer for Worx Toys.
“The labor rate is more competitive, the supply chain is there. Even when companies like ours here try to go out to other countries, Vietnam, India … we always find ourselves having to come back to China, because China really has that infrastructure in place that no one else in the world seems to have. So without question, without China, none of us in the consumer goods—not just in the toys—would be able to do our jobs.”
“We used to be able to bring components made in China, bring them here, and have them assembled in the U.S.,” said Rick Engle, executive vice president of Little Kids Inc. “That’s gotten a little difficult, as we service larger and larger customers.”
Unfortunately, Chinese manufactured toys have a seedy safety record.
In June of 2007, the New York Times reported that all 24 kinds of toys recalled in that year were manufactured in China. Among them were 1.5 million Thomas & Friends train sets that were recalled for being coated in lead paint, which can lead to brain damage.
In 2011, the Telegraph reported that one third of toys made in China contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury, or cadmium.
Because of this, toy retailers are hiring third party companies to do quality control for products and parts made in China. Companies such as Asian Inspection and SGS perform product inspections in labs to ensure all products meet a country’s or a specific company’s safety standards.
According to an Asian Inspection representative, most toy retailers and brands will hire the services of an inspection company because they risk hurting consumers and compromising their reputations if they sell products that are unsafe or toxic.
With this extra safety measure, toys retailers are more confident that the toys hitting the shelves are safe to go into the hands of children.
“A lot of these products will get pulled off the shelves by the retailer and retested again just to make sure that there hasn’t been any kind of changes throughout the production process,” said Khasminsky.
“From a company wide perspective, I’m fairly confident the suppliers we’re using are compliant. We have our products tested all the time,” said Engle.
Not all companies have their supplies tested, and toy suppliers may not have their products inspected unless a retailer requires it.
Yi Yang is a special correspondent in New York.