Defective Products Galore... What's Up With China?


From toothpaste to toys and medical drugs to dog food, there's been a slew of recalls involving products that were made in China.

Children have died, adults have died, pets have died and many people have become sick or injured due to unsafe products that were manufactured in China.

People around the world are concerned about the safety of products coming from the Asian supergiant. In the United States, there's been increasing media attention about Chinese-based negligent products.

People are worried.

And there's good reason for concern.


The China Recall Numbers

On average, about two-thirds of all U.S. product recalls are related to imported products. The majority of those imported recalled items are manufactured in China, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

China is a huge product producer. Check this out: A 2007 CPSC report said that the value of U.S. imports from all countries was $614 billion in 2006. Of that amount, the value of U.S. imports of products manufactured in China was $246 billion-about 40 percent of all products imported.

China's industry is growing fast, and we're gobbling up their products.

Just walk through any isle at your local Wal-Mart, Target or Sam's Club and you'll see dozens, if not hundreds of products, that originated in China.

Why Are So Many China-Made Items Recalled?

As with any complex problem, there's no one answer to why China is producing such a high number of defective/dangerous products. Below are dissections of some of the fundamental issues behind the problem:

  • Demand for inexpensive products leads to corners that are cut: Factories may cut corners in order to slash costs and increase profit. It's simple: If U.S. companies demand China factories sell us products at ridiculously low prices, they'll produce the products as cheap as possible.
  • Counterfeiting is easy in China: If you think economic times are tough in the United States right now, you should see what life's like for some people in rural/suburban China where the factories are. People look for a "hustle" in order to survive. China has a wide underground economy of people who have learned to produce and sell counterfeit items to the United States.
  • Work conditions in some factories are deplorable: Some factories have horrendous conditions for employees. Many factories aren't visited by health inspectors; if they are, some health inspectors can easily be bribed to produce favorable reports.
  • Many employees are required to live within the factory compounds and are often only allowed to leave the factory premises on one given day a week. While the people are fighting for better work hours, conditions and pay, some factories are still not treating their employees fairly. Bad conditions result in bad products being made.

  • Factory employees and managers aren't properly trained: In factories, the turnover rate can be high. New employees sometimes aren't properly trained in their jobs. Additionally, the big bosses sometimes are in a hurry to create quantity over quality and management is left to try to juggle the high production amount and still protect the employees and produce quality goods.
  • People also come from all over China (and other countries) to work in the factories. Many of the dialects are as different as German and English are and training instructions can get lost in translation.

  • Lack of regulation leads to contamination: Inadequate infrastructure can lead to products being accidentally contaminated. For example, lack of proper sewage and water systems has led to contaminated food products.

It's important not to think of China as a "bad" country for industry. There are many factories and companies that are making quality products. Unfortunately, those companies are overshadowed by the companies that are producing less favorable products.

As China grows and develops, so will our interactions increase with the country. We are more connected to their causes than we may think. As you can see, bad work condition for employees in China wind up affecting us here in the United States.

The United States is recognizing the need for a good China-United States relationship and certain agencies have stepped forward to try to solve these issues.

Reducing China Recalls -Actions Taken

After seeing numerous food and drug products injure or kill Americans, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken note.

Currently the FDA sends inspectors to foreign facilities on individual assignments; but in light of the growing recalls and injuries, the office now plans to open FDA offices inside of China.

The first office will be in Beijing and will include eight U.S. employees. In 2009, the FDA hopes to open additional offices in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The CPSC is also taking steps to try to increase the safety of products from China. It signed a Memorandum of Understanding between itself and its China counterpart, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) of the People's Republic of China.

Some of the agreements to increase product safety and reduce negligent products include:

  • exchanges of scientific, technical and regulatory information;
  • exchanges of information on product issues;
  • consultation on product safety issues relating to specific products that are manufactured in one country and sold in the other;
  • consideration of inspection results obtained by the labs authorized by the other country;
  • training by U.S. officials of Chinese inspection employees; and
  • development of a Plan of Action for Cooperation (which includes both the CPSC and AQSIQ attending planned summits and creating working groups for better communication and information sharing).

It's clear that both countries are making efforts to work toward creating safer products. However, if the core issues discussed earlier don't improve, we may see little change and it will affect all of us-on each side of the globe.

Be sure to stay tuned to Total Injury for the latest on product recalls.

Related Total Injury Article:

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