SHENZHEN, China: Inside Mattel's sprawling test lab
here, scores of technicians are doing their worst: setting Chicken
Dance Elmo dolls on fire, wrecking Hot Wheels cars and yanking at the
limbs of Dora the Explorer. The lab workers are paid to break toys,
pick apart their innards, and analyze the raw materials that go into
The goal is to protect young children from the serious harm that
poor construction or dangerous components can bring. But it is also to
protect Mattel, the world's biggest toy maker, from what is
increasingly viewed as the risk of doing business in China.
The recent wave of recalls and warnings from China has ignited
worldwide concern about the safety of Chinese products, potentially
mucking up a global system built, in large part, on outsourced
manufacturing. As a result, companies are trying urgently to figure out
how to do business here, without risking their reputation, consumer
trust, or customers' lives.
Mattel may have some of the answers. In the 1990s, critics charged
the company with running sweatshops in Asia. Now, independent analysts,
and even watchdog groups, say Mattel may be the best role model for how
to operate prudently in China.