China’s Product Recall Guessing Game
For those anticipating another recall, the question to ask may be: Which industry is next? One reporter asked to pick some industries after seeing my article on “quality fade” - talk about being put on the spot.
Pressed to come up with an answer, I named a few conditions:
- Heavy Products
Laboratory testing does not prevent production shenanigans, but since everyone is still counting on more testing to help us prevent further recalls, I just want to point out: The majority of product testing is done at laboratories that are far from the point of production. Sample products are sent to laboratories by express courier, and it is easier to ship a stuffed animal than a leather couch. Inspectors from the third-party testing company can go on site, but such visits are often not cost effective. Long story short, heavier products get tested less frequently than lighter products. It’s an industry blind spot.
- Products That Have A High Salvage Value
When suppliers consider reducing the specifications of a product, they always take into account the associated risk. The supplier has to consider what he will do if his buyer learns about the quality fade. After all, he doesn’t want to suffer any loss from a rejected shipment. If an order can be unloaded elsewhere at cost, or better, his risk is low – and the buyer’s on the other hand is high.
Be concerned about chemicals. They are hard to detect, and third-party testing provides limited assurances. Bear in mind that the laboratory must be told exactly what it is that they are testing in the first place. You can’t send a sample and tell them ‘just make sure it doesn’t have any bad stuff in it’. You have to know what kind of bad stuff to look for. Take an example: An importer of beds from China did not imagine that they should test for insecticides (the importer’s supplier had sprayed the bed with insecticides to prevent infestation). Even if the bed company had tested its product with a reputable third-party testing company, it is unlikely they would have thought about that one test. Another case. A woman claims she received chemical burns from a pair of flip-flops made in China and purchased at Wal-Mart. The case has not been proven, but it is doubtful that the importer would have thought to test for ‘some unknown chemical residue’ on the flip flop.
- Products That Rely On FDA Approval
Factories in China often claim to be U.S. FDA-approved when sometimes they are not. Certificates can be faked. A factory can claim they have approval when what they mean is that they are in the process of gaining approval. Or, a factory can have approval but decide to cut corners anyway. America’s FDA is an overgrown and under-funded agency that has enough on its plate with prescription drugs. FDA does not provide pre-market approval for many products where it has oversight, and it is not particularly rigorous about testing products on store shelves. U.S. FDA doesn’t approve factories in China itself. That job has been outsourced, actually, to a government agency inside China. As we have seen with the execution of China’s food safety chief, such approval processes may be influenced by graft, which undermines safety assurances.