American Importers Share Responsibility For Unsafe Chinese Products

The American Society for Quality says much of the responsibility for quality problems that have resulted in Chinese product recalls lies with inadequate oversight by U.S. importers.

"Companies are so used to dealing with suppliers in the United States or Europe that comply with their specifications that they aren't taking into account that the whole concept of quality systems is a radically new thing to many foreign suppliers in countries like China," says Randy Goodden, chair of ASQ's Product Safety & Liability Prevention Interest Group.

In addition to cultural differences and different business operating models, companies sourcing from developing economies are encountering an unfamiliar legal climate often providing no recourse for failure to uphold terms of a contract, document forgery or protection for intellectual property, according to Goodden.

William Barthold, chair of ASQ's Customer-Supplier Division, recently returned from a sourcing study trip to China, where he found a major difference according to types of ownership.

"We tend to find lackadaisical attitudes from government-owned suppliers where management staff gets a paycheck regardless of performance," says Barthold in a press statement. "But privately-held companies are the best bet as they are investing in their future with newer equipment and more process and controls." He adds that private companies with foreign management, such as Taiwanese owners who bring in their own managers and work styles, are the ideal combination right now in China.

Both Goodden and Barthold agree that importing companies need to take more responsibility for their inadequate assessment of risks in dealing with foreign suppliers, insufficient supplier development activity and a lack of discipline in applying quality basics with suppliers.

While the United States needs stronger consumer protection measures and an increased capacity of federal consumer protection agencies, ASQ's new quality report identifies some other high-impact actions that outsourcing companies can take to make a difference.

With more than 93,000 individual and organizational members, the American Society for Quality advances learning, quality improvement and knowledge exchange to improve business results, and to create better workplaces and communities worldwide. As champion of the quality movement, ASQ offers technologies, concepts, tools and training to quality professionals, quality practitioners and everyday consumers.

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