An important aspect of interpersonal relationships is the concept of face. “Face” is seen as one’s public image in social contexts, and this concept is very important in Asian cultures that have a collectivist identity. These societies are concerned with saving face, or how they will appear to those around them. Public criticisms that can lead to a person losing face may harm the person’s identity and image, especially within their families and communities. Losing face can lead to deadly consequences, as in the following example:
In August 2007, Mattell was forced to recall over 900,000 plastic toys due to excessive amounts of lead in the paint. Later that month, Zhang Shuhong, the CEO of Lee Der Industrial in China, the manufacturer of the toys, committed suicide after China temporarily banned the company’s exports. A Chinese newspaper said that a supplier, Zhang’s best friend, sold Lee Der fake paint that was used in the toys. “The boss and the company were harmed by the paint supplier, the closest friend of our boss,” the report said. It continued that “in China it is not unusual for disgraced officials to commit suicide.”
Later that year, in September, Mattel’s Executive Vice President for Worldwide Operations, Thomas Debrowski made a public apology to the Chinese government saying, “Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys. It is important for everyone to understand that the vast majority of these products that we recalled were the result of a flaw in Mattel’s design, not through a manufacturing flaw in Chinese manufacturers.” 1
As this case illustrates, this situation even led to Mattel trying to save its face with the Chinese government and its people.