Two years after a Minneapolis boy swallowed part of a charm bracelet given away with a pair of athletic shoes and died of lead poisoning, the shoes' maker, Reebok, has agreed to pay the government $1 million to settle allegations that it violated the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.
One million isn't that much for a company like Reebok, but it is more than the government usually fines. But this is not a case where the facts were really in question. The charm the little boy swallowed was 99% lead and there is no question that it directly lead to his death.
Reebok International representatives could not be reached for comment Monday night. But Heuer (the family's attorny) said company executives and lawyers were "compassionate and professional" about the recall. They issued a quick public apology and did not force Jarnell's family into extensive litigation, he said. "Most corporations, when something like this happens, get up and deny, deny, deny," he said.
Sometimes even the big corporations, with legions of lawyers, have to admit that they made a huge mistake. Thankfully no one else died and the recall went smoothly.
The question remains, however, when Reebok designed this little charm and contracted out the job, how did they end up with a product that was nearly pure lead? I'm sure that they didn't ask for a lead charm, but when they contracted it out, did they check the reputation of the manufacturer, or did they just look at the price?
I'm starting to think that "Made in China" should be treated as a type of warning label in and of itself.