Thomas The Poisonous Tank Engine Recall Fallout Continues

Today’s New York Times has an interesting article about the process of assigning blame in the recent Thomas the Tank Engine recall debacle. Whose fault is it? The company that outsourced the manufacturing to China, RC2? The company that holds the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine, HIT Entertainment? Both? Neither?

From the Times:

Except for a small link on the Thomas Web site to RC2’s recall announcement, HIT has otherwise acted as if it has nothing to do with the situation. Its executives haven’t even said that they regret having been promoting toys with lead paint in them. They haven’t said anything publicly.

When I suggested to the company’s public relations agency, Bender/Helper Impact, that this might not be the smartest approach, the agency e-mailed me a two-sentence unsigned statement. It said that HIT appreciated the concerns of its customers and was working with RC2 on the recall, but that the recall was “clearly RC2’s responsibility.”

In effect, HIT has outsourced Thomas’s image, one of its most valuable assets, to RC2. And RC2 has offered a case study of how not to deal with a crisis, which is all the more amazing when you consider that the company also makes toys for giants like Disney, Nickelodeon and Sesame Street

Here’s HIT Entertainment’s statement, (they also own the rights to Barney and Bob the Builder, by the way) issued via their PR firm:

We appreciate and understand the concerns of our customers who are affected by RC2’s voluntary recall of select items from the Thomas Wooden Railway system.

Although it is clearly RC2’s responsibility to carry out this recall, we are working closely with them to ensure that consumers are informed and advised, and that all the affected products are recalled swiftly.

So what do the you think? Whose responsibility is this? If outsourcing is done both to cut costs and defer responsibility if something goes wrong, are consumers OK with that? Are you holding the brand “Thomas the Tank Engine” responsible? Or not? Ultimately, it’s your opinion that matters. What is it?—MEGHANN MARCO

A Lesson That Thomas Could Teach [NYT]
HIT Entertainment
HIT Entertainment’s Recall Notice


Edit Your Comment

  1. Wormfather says:

    We get it, China=Bad.

    Lets find a new country, I grow weary of China’s Consumerist takeover.

    How about…Italy, I mean, everything from Itally is expensive and I’ll be damned if that gellato doesnt kill you faster than that toy train.

  2. Skiffer says:

    Blame china…plain and simple…

  3. DeeJayQueue says:

    I don’t think the people at HIT sat in a meeting and decided it would be in the best interest of their company to sell toys made with lead paint. I also don’t think that RC2 said “Ya know if we send these toys to China to be manufactured, they can use stuff like lead paint to poison our kids and it will get by the US laws for a while till we get caught.”

    My point is, I don’t think either company was out to poison our kids. I think if it’s anyone’s fault it’s the fault of the company who actually made the toys and painted them with lead paint. They knew that those toys weren’t safe, and they made them anyway. It’s not like lead paint is something that we’re just now figuring out is toxic, we’ve all known about it since the 70’s.

    Who knows what other crap gets into this country with lead paint and god knows what from china and other places with lax human rights standards. We can’t hold the Thomas brand responsible just because they got caught with the smoking gun.

    How about we just freaking stop buying things from China for a while since it’s become pretty clear that they’re trying to kill us with our own capitalism?

  4. Bulldog9908 says:

    I’m holding China (the country) responsible. The government fosters corruption and cares about nothing but getting more money to fund their military expansion. It’s as if all the fear mongering left-wingers spout about capitalism has come true, in the communist paradise of China. Oops.

    Sure, RC2 would be legally liable, but the root of the problem is China.

    It’s not really HIT’s problem, but they could go a long way to improve their image by responding to this recall. Turns out HIT is the two-bit company I thought they were when I first saw their logo on my son’s Wiggles videos. (Think how much Tylenol’s image improved when they pulled every bottle because some were poisoned.)

  5. dbeahn says:

    The manufacturer is liable, and so is the person that HIRED the manufacturer (HIT) is liable. End of story

  6. scoobydoo says:

    The manufacturer is to blame.

    I don’t care who they hired to make their products, whether it was a US company, a Chinese company, or a bunch of illegal immigrants in someones basement; if you have something made, and plan to sell it, then you’d better be sure they are making what you ask them to.

    And unless they asked for bright red lead paint, then they are in deep trouble.

    I’m sick and tired of companies selling stuff and recalling it years later. It is a nice and cheap way for them to cut costs at the expense of our health.

    A nice $10 test would have shown them the paint contained lead. But they picked the cheap way out, and are now paying the price.

  7. CaptainConsumer says:

    I tend to find you can track blame directly related to those persons/companies issuing statements through law firms

  8. sinclair__ says:

    @dbeahn: Agreed.

    You cannot avoid responsibility by hiring someone else to do your dirty work. It is the bosses responsitiblity to verify the work is up to par.

    If you try to save money by outsourcing, you’d better be prepared to spend money inspecting the final product.

    Of course, everone is pointing their finger and saying “the buck stops there”. Welcome to corporate america, where the executives claim no responsibility for anything that happens under their watch.

  9. Wormfather says:

    In 11th grade (oh so many years ago (well 10)) I took a justice and law class and this question arose many times and the answer is…

    Whoever has the deepest pockets.

  10. bossco says:

    We all should be very worried that so much of our consumer items are made in China. China should be considered suspect, especially with the decline of natural rescources on our planet.

  11. Lowrain says:

    Come on!

    The company that hired the manufacturer is to blame at least as much, if not more, than the manufacturer!

    I could see your point if it weren’t well known that China uses lead in its paint.

    Go back and check the U.S. government’s list of toy recalls – it’s full recalls on toys made in China – sorry, it does always seem to be China, although I suspect that could just be a numbers game – because the paint had lead in it. I’ve thrown away countless fake jewelry my mom bought from the Dollar Store because of this same issue.

    Obviously, if you have something made in a place where the environmental and health standards aren’t the same, you should investigate how they’re making the toys and other items you intend to sell. For instance, I would never bottle air from my hometown and expect it to be clean.

  12. sinclair__ says:

    @bossco: Absolutely. China is consuming way too many natural resources.

    Why, just today, there was an article on how all of China emits *as much* carbon dioxide as the United States per year.

    And don’t even talk about oil consumption. China is up to 7 billion barrels per day! If we don’t act fast, our 20 billion barrels per day consumption rate might be in jeopardy.

    Given the population difference, one guy in america emits as much carbon dioxide (read: hot air) as 5 chinese, and uses as much oil as 14 guys in china. Yet somehow the *chinese* are the ones to be blamed for the decline of natural resources?

    I’m not sure what this has to do with recalled toys, but I’m getting sick of the China bashing here. Lots of toys from china are recalled because lots of toys are made in china. Duh.

  13. Myron says:

    Maybe these companies are run by four year olds who believe if they close their eyes no one can see them.

  14. etinterrapax says:

    Whoever chose that manufacturer is the one who should be making amends now. The manufacturer’s responsible, but no one’s talking about exactly what happened there–did HIT know about the lead paint and send the toys anyhow, or did RC2 turn a blind eye to the manufacturer’s raw materials, or both? We’ll probably never know. Right now, my feeling is that sufficient oversight of Chinese manufacturers is impossible for American companies, and for safety’s sake, we should stop importing manufactured goods from China whenever that oversight is necessary to preserve the consumer’s health, and consumers should reconsider the purchase of those goods. We talk about how it’s capitalism that manufacturing is outsourced to where the cheap labor is, but we hardly ever talk about capitalism’s power to work against dangerous or otherwise unsuitable products. If publicity for this issue leads people to choose safer goods, so much the better.

  15. Buran says:

    It could be a lot worse. There is a museum near me full of steam locomotives. Some years back all of them had to be processed to remove the dangerous asbestos insulation in the boilers, which could get stirred up by people poking at the locomotives (which are not under cover, and so decay, and they’re deliberately left accessible so people can touch them).

    Lead paint isn’t the kind of thing that gets airborne unless you deliberately are flaking the model locomotive. Asbestos on the real thing, however, is a whole different story.

    And we all know how many lawsuits have been filed over asbestos-caused lung cancer …

  16. nejsooner says:

    I know why we outsource, but should we really do it all the time? Are we that money hungry that we need to sacrifice the safety of our children for a few extra dollars? I guess the money they make off the sale of just one train is not enough any more. Each parent, grandparent, or friend shelling out this money (at least $10 for one train) expects a certain amount of quality. The company prides itself on it’s “quality” so much that they will replace any train (FOR LIFE, mind you) if it breaks, wears out, spontaneously combusts, or otherwise quits on you. Of course I am not quoting their specific warranty exactly, but you get the idea. They are, or at least used to be, well made toys. I guess the old saying, “You get what you pay for,” just doesn’t apply anymore.

  17. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Buran: Children chew on everything, that’s how they get the lead in them!

    Maybe you should go back on display in that Moscow park!

  18. sum0belly says:

    I’m sure that the company in China that made these toys has also made and painted toys beyond the Thomas franchise. It shouldn’t take too much effort for an energetic reporter to run this down and find out how many other toys are actually affected. Hard to believe that this case is merely a Thomas & Friends problem.

  19. forexproject says:

    Who in their right mind would defend a greedy corporation? No one intended to poison our kids? I wish I were that optimistic about it all but I’m not. I don’t know if I’m just finally seeing the light but I’ve pretty much had it with corporations and their greedy ways. The question is what can we do about it. There is no question that this site can make a difference but how else can we.

  20. bnissan97 says:

    Ok all you greedy American CEO’s continue outsourcing to China to pad your pocket.

    Continue to assist in the demise of America and our workforce

    Continue to encourage under age workers and unfair labor conditions.

    Why would you care? You’re making more money than you would ever need.

  21. Charles Duffy says:

    I see folks complaining about how the Consumerist is harping on China, and I’ll grant that that’s happening in a great many articles — but this one, unlike those that preceded it in the series, isn’t onesuch.

    I see this article to be largely about an American trademark holder and their attempts to put the responsibility for a health-impacting quality issue on their licensee, another American company (who, incidentally, outsourced production to China — but the controversy between the two American companies would be just as legitimate were this a safety issue of some variety having nothing to do with China at all).

    The argument, here, is that these folks are allowing their brand to be badly tainted — but it has nothing to do with China except for the peripheral, incidental circumstances.

  22. SexCpotatoes says:

    Hey now, bnissan97, the movie “Brewster’s Millions” proved that no matter how much money you have, you can always spend it all. Some people need money, but I say we devalue money completely and start using something rare for currency, like, say, Honesty.

  23. bhall03 says:

    I think it is pretty interesting that the one entity the NYT and Consumerist choose not to list as a potential target for blame is the manufacturer of the toys.

    Having said that, I do believe there is some culpability on the part of the RC2. They chose who was going to manufacture the product. If they decided not to have someone verify the quality and safety of their merchandise then that is on their head.

    As for HIT, I believe they are taking the right course in stating they are working with RC2 on this problem. They do have a lot to lose if the Thomas brand gets a black eye because of this. But ultimately, it is the responsibility of RC2.

  24. LionelEHutz says:

    I blame Clinton.

  25. Buran says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: Oh, so just because I point something out that you don’t like, you have to resort to insults. (And yes, I know what you’re talking about).