Saturday, September 22, 2007

HARD TIMES FOR BARBIE & HER FRIENDS (more ranting about the global economy)


This image, taken from the infamous and well circulated Barbie science fair project, is a great visual metaphor for the state of the toy industry and the far reaching consequences of the global economy. It seems we are all getting burned by the desire to uphold the bottom line, and as a result of our endless consumption of cheap products manufactured overseas. The jury is now out!

In many ways, life used to be so much simpler for Barbie and her cohorts; the Malibu beach parties, the yacht rides with Ken, going for adventures in the camper, it was all innocent fun and we bought these toys and others without any further thought for a few generations.

Now it seems that Barbie's makers are sucking up to the great wall of Chinese commerce, humbly admitting the folly of their "design standards" and their own role in making crappy plastic toys. Wasn't Mattel CEO Robert A. Eckert just shrugging it all off last month when Mattel's toys were recalled due to high levels of lead paint, saying that "no system is perfect" . It now seems that Mattel is giving lip service to having some corporate responsibility in all of this, not over concerns about the best interests of children, but in order to appease China and preserve their pool of flexible and cheap labour.

What is missing is any meaningful discourse regarding the negative consequences of the global economy in the context of this story. On a simplistic level I would phrase it as "you get what you pay for". Basically, when you outsource and sub-contract out to the lowest bidder to manufacture your product, what else do you expect? Design flaw or not, the flurry of toy recalls are a natural consequence of companies like Mattel that are far removed from any form of meaningful production.

They are ready to increase their profit margins on the back of cheap Chinese labour, though there is an unwillingness to examine the entire practice of outsourcing to begin with and whether this is in the best interest of the those who purchase or play with their products . Like many other companies, Mattel is so dependent on cheap foreign labour that it seems to cloud their judgement, and they have no other choice than to play nice to China, otherwise increased taxes or levies would hurt their bottom line.

Its time to demand something better. Not just in terms of quality of toys, but in terms of the ethics around how we do business and what we personally choose to consume . As history has taught us change will only occur if it is consumer driven. We need to demand something better, and if the big companies won't listen then we need to seek out the smaller companies that have a vested interest in pursuing more ethical business and manufacturing processes.

In light of my rant, and out of a desire to be proactive, I want to compile a list of more ethical companies that we can choose as an alternative to the bottom feeders at Mattel. Any suggestions out there would be highly appreciated. I don't want to get burned again, and poor Barbie it seems is in need of a pardon.

1 comment:

jmgb said...

i appreciate that you write of ethics and quality...i am going to enter morality and the feminine identity.

barbie originated in germany as a sex toy and has been one of many "american" symbols that has reduced a woman's value and self-worth to her physical appearance.

i pardon her nothing and enjoyed your rant:)