A Followup to Toys Made in China, Subcontracting, and the Chain of Corporate Plausible Deniability

i’d posed the question before about toy manufacturers who use factories in china to make their toys, and how they can possible ensure that toys are made to U.S. safety standards.

this NYT Magazine article explores in depth precisely that question. how can big toy corporations that outsource and subcontract the making of their toys both guarantee the safety of the workers they employ overseas AND monitor the safety standards the toys must measure up to? and do they have the will to when there’s hardly any regulatory bite in the laws governing toy manufacture and inspection, for either factory workers or children who play with the toys?

with regard to corporate responsibility, the article asks

What should we expect, in the moral realm, from the conduct of multinational corporations, in China or elsewhere? Corporate social responsibility, which was a fringe movement when Sethi published his seminal textbook “Up Against the Corporate Wall” in 1971, has moved into the business mainstream. More than 3,600 businesses have signed onto the United Nations Global Compact, the largest voluntary corporate social-responsibility initiative in the world, which Sethi serves as senior policy adviser (and which he has described, with characteristic tact, as “a mile wide and half an inch deep”). According to a poll by Nima Hunter, a marketing research firm, 91 percent of chief executives believe that a good corporate social-responsibility program creates shareholder value.

Which is interesting, because there isn’t a great deal of evidence that that’s true. So-called socially responsible investing firms are more and more in vogue but still account for only about 2 percent of total assets in mutual funds in the United States. And you need look no further than Mattel itself — a company with one of the highest corporate social-responsibility profiles in the world — to see that there’s a limit to what it can protect you from in terms of lawsuits, regulatory threats, brand loyalty or unfavorable press. “They got no positive press coverage in any of the lead-paint stories for their strong performance on labor standards,” Vogel says. “C.S.R. doesn’t buy you much credit when things go wrong.”

i admire the mulish integrity of Prakesh Seti, the man behind the International Center for Corporate Accountabillity. but the article itself is illuminating and disappointing. illuminating in that mattel has made real efforts to improve working conditions for its overseas workers. but disappointing in that meeting Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines seems to have been completely forgotten.

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