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Mattel Apologizes to China Over Toy Recall, Says Design Flaw Responsible for Defects

U.S. toy giant Mattel issued an extraordinary apology to China on Friday over the recall of Chinese-made toys, saying most of the items were defective because of Mattel's design flaws rather than faulty manufacturing.

The company added that it had recalled more lead-tainted Chinese toys than was justified.

The gesture by Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president for worldwide operations, came in a meeting with Chinese product safety chief Li Changjiang, at which Li upbraided the company for maintaining weak safety controls.

"Our reputation has been damaged lately by these recalls," Debrowski told Li in a meeting at Li's office.

"And Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys," Debrowski said.

Mattel ordered three high-profile recalls this summer of millions of Chinese-made toys including Barbie doll accessories and toy cars because of concerns about lead paint and tiny magnets that could be swallowed.

The "vast majority of those products that were recalled were the result of a design flaw in Mattel's design, not through a manufacturing flaw in China's manufacturers," Debrowski said.

Lead-tainted toys accounted for only a small percentage of all toys recalled, he said, adding that: "We understand and appreciate deeply the issues that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers."

In a statement issued by the company, Mattel said its lead-related recalls were "overly inclusive, including toys that may not have had lead in paint in excess of the U.S. standards.

"The follow-up inspections also confirmed that part of the recalled toys complied with the U.S. standards," the statement said.

Li reminded Debrowski that "a large part of your annual profit ... comes from your factories in China.

"This shows that our cooperation is in the interests of Mattel and both parties should value our cooperation. I really hope that Mattel can learn lessons and gain experience from these incidents," Li said, adding that Mattel should "improve their control measures."

Since this summer's recall, Mattel has announced plans to upgrade its safety system by certifying suppliers and increasing the frequency of random, unannounced inspections. It has fired several manufacturers.

Tests had found that lead levels in paint in recalled toys were as high as 110,000 parts per million, or nearly 200 times higher than the accepted safety ceiling of 600 parts per million.

China has become a center for the world's toy-making industry, exporting US$7.5 billion worth of toys last year.