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eu-china relations August 21, 2007

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Peter Mandelson, the EU’s trade commissioner, issued a statement yesterday responding to suggestions that the EU was engaging in protectionism with respect to China:

As Trade Commissioner, I will not accept claims of toxicity being used as a pretext for protectionism. Equally, I will give firm backing to European companies having to reject goods that are dangerous to consumers, including young children. This is not a question of trade but of health.
If some in China want to create the pretext for retaliatory action, the EU will contest this in the strongest terms. Action should be taken where this is needed but otherwise the bulk of our trade should continue as normal.

mattel class action August 21, 2007

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Via Law.com:

Philadelphia law firm Woloshin & Killino filed a class action suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court Monday against toy company Mattel Inc.
The suit was filed in an effort to compel Mattel, the importer of millions of Chinese-made toys that have been recalled in the past few weeks due to lead paint and small magnets, to pay for lead testing for children who may have been affected by the toys.

children and chemical exposure August 19, 2007

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Recalls of consumer products may protect consumers from the risks associated with those particular products, but they don’t help consumers evaluate the risks of exposure to danger in future. Trade Associations such as the Toy Industry Association promote the idea that toys are safe:

All toys sold in America must conform to U.S. safety standards – the most extensive, effective, and widely emulated standards in the world – regardless of where they are manufactured. The recent recalls are due to company-specific problems with their testing and inspection processes. Companies make toys, not countries, and companies are responsible for adhering to rigorous safety standards and inspecting their products prior to delivery. Providing safe toys is the priority of the toy industry, and we are committed to continuous improvement in design testing and inspections to ensure the highest quality.

Dangerous chemicals in toys are, of course a small part of the risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals incurred by children around the world, although they are perhaps easier to regulate than some of the other risks. The EU adopted a directive on phthalates in toys in 2005, and similar legislation is pending in California (note that there’s some controversy about the dangers of phthalates). On the wider range of risks to which children, particularly poor children, are exposed, see, for example, this Report by the WHO.

outsourcing and legal standards August 16, 2007

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When firms outsource functions to other jurisdictions they may incur new risks. Recent recalls by Mattel of toys produced in China, and distributed around the world, illustrate this problem. Mattel had attempted to shield itself from risks that local manufacturing standards might not be consistent with toy safety requirements around the world by imposing its own standards by contract. In a filing with the SEC, Mattel said that:

Mattel believes that it has some of the most rigorous quality and safety testing procedures in the toy industry. Consistent with this, Mattel has launched a thorough investigation and expanded its testing programs to ensure that painted finished goods, at third-party contract manufacturers and facilities operated by Mattel, are systematically tested prior to being shipped to customers.

Mattel’s 2007 Global Citizenship Report describes Mattel’s Global Manufacturing Principles. Despite these GMPs, some products were produced for Mattel in China using lead paint, and distributed for sale to consumers. Mattel recognises in its most recent form 10Q that these developments may have an adverse impact on demand for Mattel’s products.

According to an EU Commission Press Release, the EU’s Consumer Protection Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, “expressed her satisfaction that the danger posed by these toys was detected by the producer in its own audits and that the company acted responsibly.”

Some consumers are less sanguine:

blenderlaw August 14, 2007

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The core of Blenderlaw relates to the theory and practice of harmonisation of law and practice through formal and informal channels, through the actions of domestic legislators and regulators as well as of supranational organisations. In addition, non-governmental organisations contribute to harmonisation by lobbying, and by developing codes of practice and standard form contracts. In particular this weblog will focus on the blending of financial and corporate law. The term blenderlaw is also a critical term, reflecting some scepticism about the value of legal harmonisation projects.

This weblog also hosts material relating to my classes at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Florida.