Suicide toy boss seen as victim of injustice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am

The co-owner of a Guangdong toy company accused of using lead-tainted paint, who has committed suicide, was a victim of injustice, an employee said yesterday.

Cheung Shu-hung, part owner of Foshan-based Lee Der Industrial Company, hanged himself at a warehouse at the weekend after a temporary ban was placed on its exports. The ban was imposed after US toy giant Mattel recalled 967,000 toys for young children, made by Lee Der for its Fisher-Price unit, because the paint on them contained excessive lead levels.

A factory manager from the company's Nanhai operation said the paint supplier - a company in Foshan - was to blame for providing the lead-laced paint.

'Its owner is a native of Nanhai with close ties with local authorities,' the team leader said.

'No one has tested his paint since he established the paint company three or four years ago.'

He said Lee Der had used its paint for more than three years without incident.

'That's why our boss trusted [the supplier] so much,' he said.

The factory manager said Cheung's Hong Kong business partners had arrived in Nanhai to deal with the aftermath of the paint incident, but its 6,000-plus workers had not been paid since the company halted production on August 4.

'I have been working for Mr Cheung for almost 12 years and most of my colleagues have been here seven to eight years. How can the company kick us out but pay nothing?'

A Hong Kong toy producer who also runs a toy factory in Dongguan said he had sympathy for Mr Cheung's decision to use the paint.

'I do understand why he chose [to use the paint] even though I don't encourage people to do so,' he said. 'It was because we toy producers have to deal with high risks to meet Christmas and New Year orders.'

He said many producers relied on suppliers' track records in supplying safe materials. The incident had been a good lesson for the industry.

'I think all of us will follow the safety rules from now on because the cost is too high,' he said.