The committee is requesting information from Mattel Inc. and nearly 20 other children's toy companies, after a spate of recalls of lead-tainted children's products. Millions of toys have been recalled, including 253,000 Pixar Sarge die-cast toy cars and 967,000 Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer toys by Mattel.
"These massive recalls ... raise serious concerns," said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich) who characterizes the hearings as essential "to safeguard the health of our nation's kids."
Critics charge that U.S. corporations like Mattel are increasingly shipping their production facilities overseas, costing Americans jobs and degrading the safety and quality of their products. Many of the recalled toys come from China, which produces 80 percent of American children's toys.
Industry on the defensive
The U.S. toy making industry has been on the defensive for months, since the highly-publicized recall of Thomas the Train Engine products earlier this year.
On June 18, Toy Industry Association President Carter Keithley testified before a Senate Subcommittee that the American toy industry "has led the world in the development of globally recognized toy safety standards."
"Unfortunately, media attention continues to focus on the small risks associated with toys while some very big risks remain unaddressed," he stated. "The net result is that we often waste scarce financial resources in areas of minimal risk, such as toys, at the expense of allocating them efficiently to make children's lives measurably safer."
Illinois senators take action
READ MORE LEGAL NEWSFor many parents and lawmakers, the U.S. toy industry's reassurances are not enough. For example, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission to launch a risk analysis of children's toys, and they caution against relying on the industry to regulate itself.
Senators Durbin and Klobuchar have praised major toy sellers such as Toys 'R' Us, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens for conducting their own safety reviews. They plan to meet with top executives of major U.S. toy makers and retailers to ask them to voluntarily submit to third-party inspections of the toys the manufacture in China.
"A family going inside a toy store shouldn't have to play Chinese roulette to try to guess what toys are safe for their kids," Senator Durbin said. "We need to restore the confidence of American parents in the toys that are in this country."