A Toy Maker’s Conscience – Jonathan Dee

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Business professor Prakash Sethi has spent the last several years monitoring the working conditions in ’s Chinese toy factories. Jonathan Dee writes in the New York Times Magazine:

If Mattel were simply a greedy or sloppy company that got caught doing something it shouldn’t and paid the price, its story, and Sethi’s, would be a lot less interesting. But the fact is that Mattel — largely under Sethi’s direction — has gone further than any other company to be a good corporate citizen with regard to its Chinese operations. For the last decade its factories have operated under an unparalleled degree of oversight, at least concerning wages and working conditions. And it still wasn’t enough. The past several months have provided an object lesson in the inherent limits — its sterner critics would say the fundamental hypocrisy — of Mattel’s efforts to lessen the bad side effects of its global search for cheap labor and maximum profit. [Full text]

The object lesson Dee refers to consists of the huge toy recalls of earlier this year. But Dee’s article isn’t the only story on Chinese toy to arrive in time for Christmas.

CBS News recently produced a story, “Keeping an Eye on Chinese Toymakers,” in which it was invited to tour a toy factory in Guangdong. The reporter noted that this was obviously a public relations action to demonstrate measures:

This eagerness for openness comes because China’s multi-billion dollar toy industry is under threat.

So, no surprise we were assured that supplies like paint are now triple-checked.

But the reality is that other factories are not so careful. Since the toy recalls started in the United States, Chinese authorities have shut down some 800 manufacturers.

Last month, the magazine Fast Company asked, “Can PR Save China?” The answer is probably not a simple yes or no. But if the quotes in that interview with Scott Kronick, head of Ogilvy PR’s China office (which is advising the government), are any indication, some good public relations management can definitely help.

[Image via the New York Times Magazine]

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