Disney To Start Testing Toys Following Mattel Recalls

The Disney Corporation, disturbed that its name could be sullied by a toy recall similar to the three Mattel Inc. issued this past month, has decided to start conducting its own tests of toys featuring Disney characters. Two other companies, Sesame Workshop and Nickelodeon, have also said that they will start testing toys based on their trademark characters.

Disney’s new testing initiative is a big change in the way most licensing companies do business. Traditionally, a company like Disney would allow Mattel and other manufacturers to sell toys based on popular characters for a fee, known as a royalty. The manufacturer is usually responsible for quality control, and it is also the manufacture that is liable for injuries caused by a defective toy. But Disney is extremely protective of its reputation, and obviously fears that its name could be damaged by this year’s endless parade of toy recalls.

Disney said it made the decision to start conducting its own tests of toys featuring Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and other popular characters last week. The decision came shortly after the Consumer Products Safety Commission announced what was the third recall of lead-tainted Mattel toys in a five week period. In August, Mattel had issued two other recalls for toys with lead paint and dangerous magnets. Among the toys recalled for lead paint were die cast cars based on a character from the Disney movie “Cars”.

Saying that it wants toy manufactures to “know that we’re looking over their shoulders”, Disney said the tests will begin within two weeks. How extensive those tests will be is unclear. Right now, Disney characters can be found on 65,000 toys made by 2,000 different companies. Disney has indicated that it will test the biggest selling toys most frequently, and that all Disney toys and jewelry sold at stores like Wal-mart and KB Toys will be subject to random testing.

Two other marketers, Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop have also said they would be testing toys featuring their characters as well. Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants, along with Sesame Workshop’s Elmo and Big Bird were featured on toys recalled by Mattel’s Fisher-Price division on August 1. Even retailer Toy ‘R’ Us no longer trusts toy manufacturers, and has announced that it will be doing random tests of all products sold in its stores.

Toy safety has received a great deal of attention this year. In addition to Mattel’s three recalls, the RC2 company recalled more than 1 million Thomas and Friends toy trains for a lead hazard in June. Children’s jewelry and character notebooks have also been recalled for the same reason. Exposure to lead can cause brain damage and other problems in young children, and the US all but banned the toxin from toys nearly 30 years ago. But more and more toy manufacturers have moved their operations to China, where most of the recalled toys originated. These factories are not subject to the same levels of inspection US operations would have to undergo. Because of this, millions of lead-tainted toys have made their way into the US, exposing an unknown number of children to this dangerous poison.

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