Monday, September 10, 2007

Disney, Toys R Us try to settle dangerous toy fears

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — Following three high-profile recalls by Mattel (MAT) this summer involving millions of Chinese-made toys, Walt Disney Co. (DIS) will begin independently testing toys and Toys R Us will increase the number of safety checks it makes on toys.
Disney planned to inform Mattel and other toy-makers about its program, which will test toys featuring its characters, on Monday.

Disney's program will include random tests of products already on store shelves

"It sends the message that we are looking over their shoulders," Disney consumer products division chairman Andy Mooney told The New York Times, which first reported the company's testing plans.

Toys R Us spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said, "Earlier this year we began spot checking of products on our store shelves as part of our increased efforts for quality assurance."

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"But in light of recent recalls we have begun a systematic recheck of all products on our store shelves," she said.

The Times also reported that Toys R Us had hired engineers to regularly visit the company's stores to take branded toys to independent labs for testing.

The increased scrutiny comes after millions of toys made in China were recalled this summer, often due to excessive levels of lead paint.

Lead paint has been linked to health problems in children, including brain damage.

Retailers are taking action ahead of the critical holiday selling season, and last month, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) said it is asking suppliers to resubmit testing documentation for the toys it sells.

The world's largest retailer also said it hired independent laboratories to conduct an average of 200 additional tests each day, and said it was working to find new toys and manufacturers from all over the world to give parents greater choice.

Analysts said the moves demonstrate companies' eagerness to insulate their brands from product safety fears as the holiday gift-giving season approaches.

"Anything that is going to restore consumer trust has got to be a good thing," Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, said of the Disney plan.

Disney's tests, set to begin within the next two weeks, will involve some of the more than 65,000 children's products from around 2,000 vendors of toys, jewelry, furniture and other Disney items, consumer products division spokesman Gary Foster said.

Disney executives signed off on the plan Thursday, days after Mattel, the world's largest toy-maker, announced that it was recalling about 800,000 Chinese-made toys — its third major recall of the summer

An earlier Mattel recall this summer involved about 436,000 cars based on "Sarge," a character in the Disney movie Cars, which were believed to contain lead paint.

Toys R Us is owned by a consortium that includes Bain Capital Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Vornado Realty Trust.

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