Wal-Mart Plan Looks to Keep Toys Safe for Kids

Discussion
Aug 24, 2007

By George Anderson

Wal-Mart has put in place what it is calling a supplier-to-shelf toy safety program to put concerned parents at ease in the run-up to the 2007 holiday selling season.

“We’ve heard parents’ concerns over recent recalls and we’re working hard to be their advocate, ensuring everyone involved in the toy business plays their part in improving standards,” Laura Phillips, Wal-Mart’s merchandise manager over toys, said in a company press release. “Parents need reassurance over quality and safety. We feel the very same way and will work night and day to help.”

The
retailer said its program would cover five areas:

  1. Requiring manufacturers
    to re-submit testing documentation for all products in Wal-Mart stores or
    en route to the retailer.
  2. Hiring independent laboratories to carry out 200 additional
    tests on toys. The company said it would start with items intended for kids
    three-years of age or younger. Testing is not intended to duplicate but complement
    manufacturer efforts.
  3. Sharing its findings with the entire industry including
    other retailers. The company is working with the Toy Industry Association
    (TIA) to raise safety standards.
  4. Cooperating with Chinese authorities to help address
    manufacturing issues and monitoring.
  5. Sourcing products from manufacturers producing
    toys up to the company’s standards.

Discussion Questions: How concerned are consumers about toy safety in light of recent recalls? What is your assessment of Wal-Mart’s response and the likely reaction from consumers? Will we see similar programs from other toy retailers?

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13 Comments on "Wal-Mart Plan Looks to Keep Toys Safe for Kids"


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Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
14 years 8 months ago

Kudos to Wal-Mart for taking the leadership position on this issue! I think consumers are very concerned about child safety, and they should be. We need to be concerned about anything coming into our country, toy or food. This program is a great start and it shows the power of leadership. Others will begin similar programs.

It’s seen by Wal-Mart as a consumer responsibility program and they have the money and power to foster the workings of an intensive program. This is fantastic that we have a corporate leader that cares enough to take the lead instead of sitting in their ivory towers counting their money! The automotive industry could learn a thing or two from Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart took the lead in RFID and many followed. Others will follow this program also.

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
14 years 8 months ago

Wal-Mart is obviously seizing the moment, so to speak, and showing that it is a “responsible” company. While I applaud their efforts, particularly, items 2 and 3, I hope that this is not a “program,” but it becomes a practice or a standard operating procedure. Programs usually have a beginning and an end.

This program or practice will not be effective unless Wal-Mart allows manufacturers to make reasonable profits so the manufacturers can allocate appropriate resources to produce safe toys, or safe consumer products.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
14 years 8 months ago

No doubt Wal-Mart is doing the right thing and that other retailers and importers should follow suit. However, let’s be honest, they are probably the biggest importer of Chinese goods on the planet and trying to cover their own behinds.

Also, let’s not forget that the Chinese are not the only culprits when it comes to producing and exporting substandard goods. We’ve had the same problems with India, Indonesia and a host of other countries.

The problem is, of course, enforcing the standards. Wal-Mart can’t have inspectors in every Chinese plant every day. Documentation can easily be forged and manufacturers through bribery or coercion, pretty much run the Chinese government bureaucracy these days. As such, you can have all the executions and incarcerations you want, but business still runs rough shod over government officials and policies, according to China watchers.

Companies like Wal-Mart need to convince our lawmakers to get involved in a serious way by revamping trade policies with countries that do not meet our standards.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
14 years 8 months ago

This is a great move by Wal-Mart. This is exactly what worried parents are looking for and it’s perfect timing. Now, they have to be very careful that they don’t slip up and pass something that they shouldn’t or they could lose all the momentum. And I agree that Wal-Mart is in the perfect position to do this because of their size and impact on the world’s markets and manufacturers. I can’t imagine that their competitors won’t be forced to do something very similar.

Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
14 years 8 months ago

The 5 focus areas listed by Wal-Mart have been in place there for quite some time, so it is logical that they re-inforce standards they have had in place. Wal-Mart has a huge presence in China, both with the government there and across the manufacturing community, so their “stepped up” actions will have an immediate impact on improved product quality.

I know Wal-Mart has a very strong plant and product inspection process in place on items they source from China, and rely more on National Brand suppliers to deliver safe products; whether built overseas of here in US facilities.

Wal Mart will likely step up independent testing of National Brand toy products as an additional reassurance of the quality and safety of those items they intend to stock in Wal-Mart stores prior to taking shipments, and put in place more severe supplier repercussions with those suppliers that fail to meet consistent quality and safety standards.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Toy safety is a dynamite way for Wal-Mart to get the kind of publicity they crave. Who could be against protecting children?

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
14 years 8 months ago
I have a 6-yr old son and a 3-yr old daughter. I’m on Fisher Price’s mailing list and have received all of their communications about recalls. My daughter has a lot of Dora toys, and even some Polly Pockets, two brands directly affected by the recalls. Even though the toys we own were purchased before the products that are being recalled, I keep asking myself, “How do they know for sure toys manufactured earlier are safe? They say they’re safe, but they haven’t said why they think they’re safe–did they re-test them? How do they know?” Other moms I’ve spoken with seem to feel the same way–they have brands that are being recalled, but earlier versions of the toys that are not affected. And while they’re relieved that their toys are not affected, their trust has been severely impacted. Toys are the last thing that are supposed to be dangerous to your children. You get good at watching out for the too-small parts and making sure they don’t try to eat something they shouldn’t, but… Read more »
Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 8 months ago
Dan Nelson is completely correct when he points out that most of the 5 elements outlined are already part of the Wal-Mart sourcing process. Placing emphasis on these programs will have a positive impact. Previously, “domestic” toys–those bought FOB some point in the United States (as opposed to actually made here)–have not been subject to the same quality control process and standards that direct imports have. Requiring “resubmission” of testing documents for these products is a good start. In theory, such documentation is supposed to exist before the item is even listed in the WM system for its merchants to execute a purchases order against. Unless WM takes 100% responsibility for the testing of toys sold in its stores, there is no way to guarantee that the products comply. No one wants to talk about it, but it’s ridiculously easy to obtain “massaged” test results. Think about all the news stories in criminal cases about the “chain of custody” being compromised on evidence, and how easy it is to “taint.” Well, it’s the same thing… Read more »
Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
14 years 8 months ago

If you accept Wal-Mart’s apparent objective, to deliver consumer goods at the lowest possible cost, it makes sense that they must do something to ensure quality. That they would absorb the cost of quality testing and offer the results to the industry seems counterproductive to their second objective which would be to maximize stockholder returns. The simple answer is that it would be very easy for competitors to merely monitor what Wal-Mart puts on their shelves. By making a public statement, they still absorb the cost but they increase customer awareness and earn the respect of their peers.

In politics, they refer to the “Bully Pulpit,” the effect that people in authority can have merely because of their position. Wal-Mart enjoys this same effect due its market share. The question is whether they will convince the industry organizations to take on this responsibility so that eventually, the costs will be born by everyone.

MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
14 years 8 months ago
Nothing new in in this story, but touting the existence of an old policy makes good press. Before Wal-Mart accepts a new item onto their shelves, they’ve had a long-standing policy of requiring certification from Consumer Testing Laboratories, an independent test lab with several facilities in NW Arkansas, China & India. Approval is required before the goods are accepted and CTL randomly selects products from the shelves periodically throughout the year to assure “production” goods are of the same quality as goods originally presented and passed. We’ve not yet heard exactly how the recent Mattel toys were found to be tainted, but I suspect, this is how it was discovered. Since we know that materials used in online production were substituted, thanks to the best friend of the suicidal Chinese factory boss, it makes sense that the original samples passed, but later tainted production made it to the shelves. I’m sure it happens all the time. What’s scary is that Wal-Mart’s diligent testing measures are not in place across all major retailers. Goodness only knows… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Wal-Mart depends upon the trust of its consumers. Therefore, it needs to do something to reassure its consumers. Many of the proposed 5 steps have been in place (maybe not the extra testing of 200 items) at some level. Diligent enforcement is the key. Who is going to do that? With what authority? At what cost?

Promulgating the five steps is one thing. How will consumers know that the toys they purchase for Christmas are safe? That is likely to be a major concern this holiday season. When were the toys made and delivered? Before or after the new steps have been put in place? What reassurance will consumers have?

Wal-Mart’s statement is a nice first step but consumers will need more than that.

MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
14 years 8 months ago

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that it’s the suppliers who bear the cost of the independent testing from CTL,(as they should), not Wal-Mart.

Once the certification is completed, the supplier is free to submit it to any other retailer. They own it. They paid for it, and Wal-Mart requires it. Check it: http://www.consumertesting.com/

Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 8 months ago
This is a great marketing position for Wal-Mart, but it only underscores the same processes that are already in-place (and were already violated by companies like Fisher-Price). Wal-Mart does not have the resources to spend on doing full inspections, and most companies do not do this either. The vendor qualification requirements and the annual visit is a preliminary step, but nothing more. Wal-Mart does not inspect all of the suppliers or their suppliers to their key suppliers as part of their process. Wal-Mart also cannot inspect, or check, all of these toys, and certainly not do this by the holidays. Orders for these products were placed early this year, and much of this product is already in the shipping process, so they are not available for inspection until they arrive, clear customs, and ship to the DCs. Again, this is a great marketing campaign, but it really doesn’t have any “teeth” to it. Wal-Mart must still rely on their partner suppliers to ensure that the products they represent to Wal-Mart meet their requirements.
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