Product Safety: Understanding the 'Made in China' Brand

Alexandra Harney at the Asia Society on April 28, 2008. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

The Beijing Olympics Series

NEW YORK, Apr 28, 2008- Tainted toothpaste. Contaminated cat chow. Harmful Heparin. The last year has seen growing consumer concern as more and more China-sourced products have been recalled from US and global markets. With increased international scrutiny of China in the run-up to the Olympics, these concerns will not easily be allayed.

On April 28, four insider experts came to the Asia Society to share their thoughts on China's product safety and sourcing problems. Far from pointing an easy finger at regulators, importers, or any other individual party, the panelists forged into the complexities of the issue, analyzing the difficulties that will be faced as production input prices rise and Chinese manufacturers try to move up the value chain.

Journalist Alexandra Harney discussed the in-depth research behind her recent book analyzing China's factory system, The China Price, exploring the concepts of third-party contractors and factory auditors, and how the use of such third-party companies contributes to some of the non-transparency of information regarding quality as well as environmental and labor standards. Paul Midler, CEO of China Advantage, focused on his two decades of on-the-ground product sourcing consulting in China—while he doesn't see bribery as a major problem, he believes that price pressures have led to dangerous, intentional cost-cutting, which is the major quality concern. Finally, Alan Schoem, senior vice president of the Global Product Risk Practice at Marsh, provided an in-depth analysis of regulatory responsibilities, possibilities, and trends, based on three decades of inside experience at the CPSC and Marsh.

Excerpt: "The Chinese government is trying" (3 min., 44 sec.)

Alan Schoem argues that China’s government is committed to solving quality problems and that the situation will improve as products sold domestically in China become subject to the same standards as Chinese exports. Paul Midler jumps in to describe the difference between accidental flaws and intentional corner-cutting, and how the latter is extremely difficult to monitor or regulate.


Listen on Demand (1 hr., 30 min.)