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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
'Brand China' at risk after toy recall
By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Guangdong

They are packing up at the Lee Der toy company in southern China. The business is being closed for good.

Factory gate at Lee Der toy factory in Guangdong
Lee Der factory was closed after a product recall on 1 August
This factory once made millions of toys for Mattel, but with its reputation in ruins, the boxes of toys stacked in the firm's loading bay are going nowhere.

A security guard, standing by the gate, is asked where all the workers have gone.

"They've been sent home," he said. They will not be coming back.

The company has several sites across the city of Foshan, and all are being wound up.

Across town, at the firm's paint shop, the heart of the problem is plain to see.

Inside the factory gates are piles of coloured boxes, all stacked full of sub-standard toys.

Lying abandoned, they carry the Fisher Price logo, a division of Mattel.

Boxes and boxes of recalled toys - including Dora the Explorer and other products listed on Mattel's danger list.

Customer safety

It is a tense time for everyone at the factory. The company's boss, Zhang Shu Heng, committed suicide in one of the factory buildings, he was so ashamed by the scandal.

Worker at Lee Der toy factory in Guangdong
All those Fisher Price toys are now just piled up in the warehouse
Liao Binling, 45, Lee Der worker
His last act before he took his own life: to ensure his workers got their last pay packet.

"We didn't know what was in the paint when we made the toys, we were shocked, we found out from the newspapers," one worker said.

They are almost all migrant workers from China's poorest provinces.

"We're staying until the boss's funeral - he paid us everything we were due - then we'll go and find new work," another worker said.

From a 5,000-strong workforce, only a few remain.

The loss here has been considerable, but the damage to China's reputation may be just as grave.

Big challenge

Officials in Beijing said on Wednesday they are working with their US counterparts to ensure customer safety.

But they have been slow off the mark - factory standards here remain far lower than in the West.

Factory workers at Lee Der toy factory in Guangdong
5,000 workers at the Lee Der factory have been laid off
The scale of the challenge is considerable. There are over 10,000 toy factories in China, almost all working for export, producing some 80% of the world's toys.

And many of those factories sub-contract.

Mattel is believed to source its products from about 3,000 factories across China.

And toys are only one industry. China is also facing criticism for safety scares in everything from food and drug production to the manufacturing of tyres and toothpaste.

In Beijing, the government is well aware that if it does not move quickly to shore up the reputation of goods made in China, then other workers, like those in Foshan, could be at risk of losing their jobs.

Mattel recalls millions more toys
14 Aug 07 |  Business
Toys recalled over safety fears
02 Aug 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Scandal-hit China food firms shut
20 Jul 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Bush tackles scares over imports
18 Jul 07 |  Americas
Beijing suspends US meat imports
14 Jul 07 |  Asia-Pacific

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