10.17.2007

Safety is built into U.S. Standards…what is in China's?

“Taming the Dragon” an article in the recent issue of Industry Week surprises us, in which the author begins by summarizing the ripple effects caused by recent toy product safety blunders in Chinese owned manufacturing plants. However, an attempt is made to clarify the misunderstanding over the toy recalls in the following excerpt:


“As more was learned about the recalled toys, however, it became obvious the vast majority of the recalls had nothing to do with the Chinese and everything to do with Mattel -- namely, a product design flaw that caused magnets on some toys to come loose. When Mattel CEO Robert Eckert issued a public mea culpa to China for damage done to the country's reputation – ‘Mattel does not hold Chinese manufacturers responsible for the design in relation to the recalled magnet toys’ -- it was a clear sign of exactly how important China's factories are to the U.S. toy industry, as roughly 80% of all toys sold in the U.S. are made in China. And it's an even clearer sign that Mattel has no plans to pull its manufacturing out of China any time soon. Nor, in all likelihood, do any other U.S. companies who rely on Chinese manufacturers to produce the vast majority of their goods.”


Blanchard does such a good job of blurring the line on which recall is which, now I was nearly convinced that the only recalls out there were due to Mattel’s product design flaws regarding magnet retention devices and the Chinese were really not responsible for the nearly 20 million toys recalled. Blanchard is entirely correct in the magnet recall making up the “vast” majority of recalls (nearly 90% of total recalls) but the he implies that Chinese manufacturers had little impact on the Mattel recalls. He states that U.S. consumers were “outraged” over the recalls but seems to miss the point entirely by confusing poor magnet retention design with unauthorized lead-paint use and the subsequent parties responsible for them. The fact remains: Chinese manufacturers are responsible for nearly 2.2 million recalled toys due to impermissible lead paint levels: demonstrating a profound disregard for consumer safety in this case. Unfortunately, Blanchard fails to expand on this point, and extols the Chinese ambitions for world class manufacturing excellence as illustrated in the IW survey. He concludes by stating that it is only inevitable that we engage China in competition and cooperation:


“While China is often pointed to as emblematic of everything that's gone wrong with U.S. manufacturing, there's no escaping the reality that the sheer size of the Chinese market makes it an almost irresistible opportunity for growth. In fact, China bought more than $55 billion worth of U.S. goods in 2006. Product quality issues and intellectual property protection are two very real concerns for U.S. manufacturers, but by closely studying both China's culture and its manufacturing initiatives, U.S. companies are finding that the rewards can be worth the risks.”


Blanchard makes a true statement regarding our long term engagement with China, but a partnership by definition is reciprocal; the burden of product safety rests with everyone who touches that product during manufacture. The fact remains: Chinese manufacturers used lead-based paint, while blatantly disregarding Mattel’s safety standards, designed to protect children. The economic consequences for Chinese manufacturers are largely unknown to U.S. consumers, but what we do know is ominous if regarded at a personal level: one Chinese owner committed suicide, several are under criminal investigation by the Chinese government and a former food and drug administrator was executed for fraud.


Is corporal punishment part of the new World Class Manufacturing Standard?

Why do we expect China to take product consumer safety seriously when a death sentence is the chosen method of problem solving? In a Lean company, the fear of failure is abhorred, through the constant challengeing and subsequent improvement of product and work standards. If China is serious about TQM, Lean and other "fear-free" world class mfg initiatives as suggested by the IW survey, then we have little to fear in terms of true competitiveness and can certainly expect more low-cost labor outsourcing along with the sub-standard safety.
Check out the following 1 minute video that really says it all: is there any doubt that safety is at the forefront of Chinese industry’s concerns?

video



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