- By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT
Japan used to be associated with making cheap products, but today China has that reputation. Sometimes Chinese made products are even toxic.
Just recently, the U.S. demanded a recall of Chinese made wallboard, and several years ago the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) recalled millions of toys containing dangerous levels of lead paint. Among them were some 1.5 million Thomas and Friends wooden railway toys.
The perspective from Asia is sometimes the United States appears to be in a panic to pass legislation against unsafe products made in China without weighing and measuring how they are going about it.
“It’s important to sort out the scientific and practical implications versus the political and emotional responses,” said Andrew Leroy of the Hong Kong office of Modern Testing Services (MTS).
This AJOT reporter recently interviewed Leroy at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
In China, however, people look at some of their practices as day to day business. Adding to the confusion, U.S. officials have been known to say a product is okay, then renege later and say it is not.
Leroy sees a lot of these situations. MTS provides independent technical services and product inspections of consumer products for the retail, vendor and manufacturing communities. It conducts countless laboratory tests to assure product safety, quality and compliance.
“There’s a lot of confusion and frustration within the supply chain on how to interpret regulations,” also commented Andrew Schroth, managing partner in the Hong Kong office of Grunfeld, Desiderio, Lebowitz, Silverman & Klestadt LLP, during the interview. The law firm is one of the largest in the United States focused exclusively on customs and international trade matters. “Manufacturers have been found to replace lead with cadmium or other heavy metals, which are not better,” Schroth said.
Supply Chain Confusion
These issues are among some of the biggest facing manufacturers in China today, and hence, a major concern to the Textile & Apparel Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong of which both Leroy and Schroth are chairman and vice chairman, respectively.
Lack of direction from the CPSC in the United States is a large problem. Consequently, buyers in the United States are making manufacturers in China responsible, accountable and liable for product safety. As a result, many have tightened their own supply chains all the way to their suppliers. Some have even taken some manufacturing processes in house in an effort to be compliant.
“Reducing the number of suppliers makes it easier to oversee and control of some the compliance programs,” Schroth said.
That’s particularly the case where every paint batch used in making, say, buttons for children’s shirts must be tested.
“You could have thousands of paint batches,” remarked Schroth.
Then there are other issues like tracking labels.
“How do you put a tracking label on baseball?” Schroth asked. “There are no guidelines. And one has to ask, is face paint regulated by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) or the CPSC?”
Face paint is imported into the United States from China.
The United States is not sending direct signals on how to handle these issues, but has very erroneous penalties for those that do not comply. While the CPSC works at the federal level, various states, such as California and Washington, are also passing legislation.
“Every state is able to pass product safety laws and interpretations,” Schroth said. “This causes all kinds of chaos on the manufacturing side.”
But confusion is not only brought on by the CPSC. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with its compliance regime of 10 +2, C-TPAT, and Lacey Act certification requirements, is layering on more documentation, testing and compliance on China’s manufacturers.
Accountability is Good
Schroth emphasized that such enforceable accountability is good in making ma