The head of a Chinese company that was behind the recall this month of about a million Mattel toys committed suicide over the weekend, China’s state-controlled news media reported Monday.
Zhang Shuhong, a Hong Kong businessman and owner of Lee Der Industrial, a company that made toys for Mattel for 15 years, hanged himself in a company warehouse in Foshan, in southern China, The Southern Metropolis Daily said Monday.
There was no independent confirmation of the suicide. A person who answered the phone at Lee Der’s office in Foshan City, near Guangzhou, immediately hung up.
However, a spokeswoman for Mattel, which is based in El Segundo, Calif., released a statement Monday morning saying, “We were saddened to learn of this tragic news.”
The death is the latest development in a year filled with prominent recalls and product safety scandals involving goods made in China.
Mattel, which makes Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars, recalled about a million toys worldwide after discovering that they were coated with lead paint. The recall was one of the largest this year and included 83 types of toys, among them “Sesame Street” and “Dora the Explorer” characters made under the Fisher-Price brand and sold worldwide.
The string of recalls of Chinese-made products has heightened trade tensions between the United States and China and created a public relations disaster for China, where the economy and the trade surplus are growing at a blistering pace.
Experts here say many Chinese factory owners — often under intense pressure to lower production costs — cut corners in making products and regularly use cheap and illegal substitutes. And indeed, in several of the recalls involving China this year, the government says companies intentionally used cheap or illegal substitutes, the New York Times reports.
Since 2000, Mattel and its subdivisions have recalled products 28 times -- 22 of which were in the Fisher-Price division.
On Friday, Mattel was served with a class-action suit for violating consumer protection laws. The suit said an offer to replace some 1.5 million of the lead-paint tainted toys worldwide with vouchers rather than cash was inadequate.
Last week, Mattel identified Lee Der as the sole source of its lead-paint problem. In the past, the publicity surrounding such a scandal might have been limited to China, where loose standards are not taken so seriously, latimes.com reports.
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