Keeping European Consumers Safe… From “China”

Sunday, April 20, 2008 15:59
Posted in category Uncategorized

The product safety issue has been one that I am consistently a bit sensitive to. If nothing else, it has continually proved itself to be a case where statistics can be used to show anything that an author needs to use them for.

While I am sure you all remember, the basic rundown of last summer’s highlights includes RC2, Mattel, FTS Import/ Export, and several Pet Brands whom imported goods that were dangerous (and potentially deadly) for one reason or another.

Through this time, it has always been my position that the brands themselves needed to invest in a process of ensuring their quality control, and in each case it is clear to me that each of the brands involved had either not invested in any china based QC, had failed to follow their own protocols, and in a couple of cases had not even visited the factories.

the result, again, as you know was a mess.

So, when reading through the BBC report EU warns over ‘risky’ China goods that covered the recently released Keeping European Consumers Safe Report (PDF Here) from the European Union Consumer Affairs (Rapid Alert System for non-food consumer products division), I was reminded of just how biased some reports could be when they fail to properly and completely cut the data.

China is the main source of dangerous goods in Europe, according to a safety report by the European Commission.

That is the first sentence of the BBC report, and after reading the full 28 pages of the EU study I would be hard pressed to disagree. After all 51% of all products that were red flagged were from China…

According to the report, the most frequently notified products (all countries) in 2007 were:

  • toys (417 notifications, approx. 31%),
  • motor vehicles (197 notifications, approx. 15%),
  • electrical appliances (156 notifications, approx. 12%),
  • lighting equipment (84 notifications, approx. 6%),
  • cosmetics (81 notifications, approx. 6%).

79% of all alerts, were:

  • injuries (376 notifications, approx. 23%),
  • choking (251 notifications, approx. 15%),
  • electric shock (246 notifications, approx.15%),
  • fire (216 notifications, approx. 13%),
  • chemical (212 notifications, approx.13%).

As complete, and interesting, as the report is though, it is also a bit misleading in its slant, and this is where I am concern. The core of the slant is that the authors make no effort to accurately define “Made in China” and that readers are lead into believing that these goods were made in China, by Chinese owned factories, to European countries- unassisted – and that at no point was there a party (i.e. Mattel) somewhere in this equation who failed to properly live up to their responsibilities to their own customers by investing in and following quality control procedures.

The report is still heavily biased to relieve the EU, and its companies, of any real responsibility in thse problems.

No doubt, the report has a lot of interesting information, and for me the most interesting thing about the report is that readers will come to understand more about the EU’s consumer safety structure and reporting system – that is important stuff.

However, one of the things I learned from this report, and something perhaps more important to me, is that it is clear that the people in charge of these commissions have still yet to fully understand the core issues surrounding product failures.

They are problems of corporations, and their inability to manage their supply chains.

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10 Responses to “Keeping European Consumers Safe… From “China””

  1. Jalal Bourgana says:

    April 20th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you for the post Rich, I guess that Chinese or elsewhere’s product safety concerns still have not hit their tipping point with consumers yet, in the European union or the US as a matter of fact, for the governments to start enforcing their pre-existing regulations, due to the huge costs involved in setting enforcement systems and mechanisms, which would give importers an incentive to get their act together.

  2. Rich says:

    April 21st, 2008 at 6:13 am

    Jalal,

    For me, what is more important that brands investing into their quality control procedures, is for consumers to more fully understand the complexities of supply chain management and manufacturing in general.

    Consumers are too far removed (in part the was done on purpose), and by not understanding the role of each player it becomes to easy to mis-assign blame.

    R

  3. Mario Vellandi says:

    April 21st, 2008 at 8:42 am

    I too, wish consumers knew more about the multi-party nature of today’s manufacturing world, so that they won’t cast blame on the primary brand name at hand. If reporters are the arbiters of information/news dissemination, then they are responsible to make stories balanced and objective, and not simplify them for the sake of brevity. Especially in an era where the media is purporting investigative-journalism, but not giving the airtime to justify such a label. Secondly, if media outlets are rousing passion (positive or negative) within their audiences, it’s of greater concern that these feelings are based on well-balanced reporting – otherwise it risks becoming at worst, propaganda.

  4. Rich says:

    April 21st, 2008 at 9:33 am

    Very well said Mario

    R

  5. Jalal Bourgana says:

    April 21st, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    The problem is that consumers do not care about how products get to shelf, they did not care when they were made domestically, and won’t now that they are produced globally, they rely on the government and the brands to do their job and keep them safe, so as long as the safety issues of products made in China or meat produced in Chino hills, CA are not displayed tabloid style on the first page of every paper or news program, neither brands nor the government have an incentive to invest in QC.

  6. Rich says:

    April 21st, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Jalal

    On the whole, I can see your side of that.

    Where I would say things are changing, or perhaps where things will change, is in the area of food, medicine, and kids items. It is natural for moms/ dads to want the best for their kids, and that is probably why these categories got the most press coverage.

    R

  7. Stacy says:

    April 25th, 2008 at 5:01 am

    I agree that companies here in the states need to take responsibility for their products, but in the name of the thousands of pets that either became ill or died because of cheap imported wheat gluten, I think all products imported from China should be banned.

    The problems with imported goods from China goes much deeper than just toys and dog food though. According to the FDA, alot of whole foods that are imported from China are just as bad. The only thing that is atleast somewhat healthy that comes out of China is children that are adopted from there, but even then, there are some gross politics behind that as well. A country that takes pride on making money from babies? That in and of itself is a whole other hornets nest that has yet to be tapped into. It won’t be discussed here in the states because Dubya insists that all Americans should be peaceful towards China.

    Hats off to those that toss sympathy in China’s direction, but when is the Chinese goverment going to be expected to step up to its own plate and take responsibility for itself and all that it does? IMO, they don’t need sympathy, they need a kick in the pants. To make the problem worse, American citizens love to cheap junk and lots of it which only makes China deep its heels in more regarding product safety. Why should they if people are always willing to buy a cheap pair of shoes from their local big-box store.

    I cringe everytime I see a sticker that says “Made in China” and avoid those stickers as much as possible. Shame on the American businesses that thrive on having children make their cheap stuff and contributing the the monster sized problem that won’t be going away anytime soon.

  8. Rich says:

    April 25th, 2008 at 6:49 am

    Stacy,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    First, why the China-phobia over food? It is American firms who had to recalls the millions of pounds of beef in the US, not Chinese…

    with regard to the dog food, do you believe that IAMS and other brands should have visited the Chinese factories and inspected them, or should they have been able to trust them to get the job right?

    Do you think they trust their American suppliers?

    I am not going to deny that products being in China carry a higher risk level than those made in the U.S… and that goes double when someone places an order for 100 containers of dog food and never bothers to check the factory out. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed, and while Chinese regulations are part of the problem… American consumers also share a role (as you point out).

    In the end, there are problems on both sides of the border, and perhaps I would suggest that instead of being scared of “Made in China”, you should really focus on “Made by ___ “.

    R

  9. Stacy says:

    April 26th, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Any company regardless of what they make has a responsibility to make sure that their product is safe. In the case of dog food, yes, somebody from Iams or any other company that was sourcing from China should have made the trip to ensure what they were ordering was safe. This leads to a answer to your first question.

    Americans in general are lazy. If the goverment tells people that something is safe, they will believe them. It’s easier to be spoon fed information and take it for whatever it is worth rather than look into the goverments sources. It’s only when there is a problem that people start to question things, such as with the wheat gluten that was being put in pet foods. Add in the fact that there is no regulation on pet foods and that companies by law do not have to label where they get their sources from, look what happened. I’m surprised that it didn’t happen much sooner or maybe it was going on only vets here in the states didn’t make the connection.

    Since all of that happened, people are realising that the US goverment doesn’t always play fair and tell us the truth. Keep in mind that the percentage of people that will actually take the time to compare notes is tiny. Most of the population here in the states have gone right back to feeding their pets with ingredients that they either cannot pronounce or know where they come from. Why? Because it’s easier to be lazy and since the goverment has once again told everybody that everything is fine, these people settled right back into their old ways. It just so happens that I’m not one of those people. If I can’t pronounce something on the ingredients list of my dog or cats food, I refuse to buy it. I also won’t buy from companies that use ingredients in their pet foods from other countries, period. I’ll cook for my pets before I give any country or company the chance to poison my pets.

    Do I think other countries should or do trust American food suppliers? Heck no! It’s a scary proposition especially when we have groups like PETA that are making announcements that they will pay the first company that is able to create meat out of a test tube. Yikes! I’ll skip the test tube chicken thanks! I’m allergic to it anyway along with any other type of fowl, but it’s still pretty gross.

    The point of my post wasn’t to say that the US is superior as it isn’t by any means. The goverment here is just as screwed up only we do have laws regarding how food stuff is kept, child labor laws, and so on.

    The difference is that I can speak with my wallet here. If the goverment wants to try to sell me garbage, I don’t have buy it and won’t. The US is a capitalistic country and hates it when people stash their money underneath their mattresses at night. This message as it were doesn’t get to China. The only way that would happen would be if lots and lots of people simply said “No!” to imports which will never happen.

    Example: I get annoyed when I set out to buy things like new towels only to find that if I rub my fingernail against the “high quality” towels I was considering purchasing, the color rubs off on my nail. If it’s going to rub off on my fingernail at the store, certainly they are not going to be able to take the abuse from my husband, son and myself. The pets have their own towels and I’m sure the color rubbed off on those before they were purchased as well. This is a very lame example, but I think you get the point. If I’m going to spend $80.00 on a set of towels, the color better not be able to rubbed off.

    I’m a fan of less is more and the stuff imported from China doesn’t cut it. I can make noise about quality issues until I’m blue in the face and it won’t matter much, but I don’t feel obligated to support a country that sends me cheap crap either.

    I think your site is cool regardless. Please don’t take my opinion on imports from China as a personal attack as it isn’t about you. People here in the US do all kinds of shoddy things, but I can crawl down their backs for it. I can’t crawl down the backs of the shoddy companies there.

  10. Rich says:

    April 26th, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Stacey,

    Thanks for your clarifications/ insights.

    In the end, I think you are more “brand” driven by quality,and that is a good thing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of firms out there that have gone through the process you have described, but I do know of firms who have set up in China who have more control points here than in the US. Simply, they want to make sure that their goods are just as good/ better than their US made products for the same price/ process.

    Check out China @ Crossroads (www.china-crossroads.com), and you will see a bunch of books that I have read and I think you will like. I am a big fan of local food supply chains and organic agriculture….. but I must admit I don’t know a things about towels.

    R