Is Everything In The World Broken?: Graco Recalls 1.2 Million High Chairs

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Mattel (MAT) toys had lead paint in them. Car companies from Toyota (TM) to Nissan to Honda (HMC) have recalled cars for defects, some of them dangerous.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a voluntary recall of Graco Harmony High Chairs. It is hard to see why the term “voluntary” was used. The screws in the front legs of 1.2 million of the products can become loose which can cause the chairs to fall. There have already been reports of 24 injuries because of the defect.Graco will probably be sued by parents whose children were hurt by the chairs and some who were not but think they can get a quick settlement any way. The problem is not entirely unlike Toyota’s, albeit on a smaller scale. A safety problem was missed when the chairs were designed. It was missed again when they were manufactured and then again by retailers. There is plenty of blame to go around, which means no one is to blame.

The Graco and Toyota problems show that Akio Toyoda may be right about why some of his cars are dangerous. Toyota pushed to become the world’s largest car company and dropped the values that made it the best and safest designer and manufacturer of vehicles. Toyoda cannot turn back the clock to mend old wrongs, but he can insist that his firm does not make cars faster than they can reasonably be inspected for engineering flaws.

Graco may not be able to stay in business if it cannot sell high chairs at the current rate. The toy company does not have Toyota’s balance sheets. It may not be able to spend more money on design and testing its chairs, which means that it will spend an extraordinary amount in legal fees.

And, perhaps that is what quality control comes down to now. Companies can invest their money in quality or they can spend it in court. It is unlikely that they can avoid both.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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