California attorney general Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit on Monday, 19 November, against 20 companies, accusing them of manufacturing or selling toys with unlawfully high levels of lead.
The lawsuit names well-known US toy companies including Mattel, and retailers, including Toys ''''R'''' Us and Wal-Mart. It says the companies knowingly exposed children and their parents to lead, and did not provide sufficient warning about its risks.
"Despite the lengthening global supply chain, every company that does business in this state must follow the law and protect consumers from lead and other toxic materials," Brown said in a statement.
The lawsuit follows a series of recalls this year that have led to millions of toys being taken off store shelves. Many of the recalled toys were made in China.
Gareth Lacy, a representative of the attorney general''''s office, hoped the companies would settle the lawsuit by agreeing to increased inspection, testing and lower lead levels.
The state can order companies to put warning labels on products that contain hazardous materials, as well as require them to adopt more rigorous inspection procedures.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled millions of toys this year, because they contained excessive amounts of lead. Other toys have been recalled because they contained other toxic substances and/or small parts that could be swallowed.
Mattel, the world''''s largest toy maker, makes about 80 per cent of its toys in China. The company recalled some 21 million of its Chinese-made toys worldwide this year. In October, one of its shareholders sued Mattel, accusing the company of failing to report serious defects in its toys. Mattel says it is working with California''''s attorney general to improve toy safety.
Mattel maintains that the use of paint with impermissibly high levels of lead by certain subcontractors was a clear violation of the company''''s quality and safety standards.
The companies named in the suit can be fined up to $2,500 per day per "violation" -potentially every time a consumer or child is exposed to a contaminated toy. But the court has to decide exactly what constitutes a "violation".