Small buyers have a hard time ensuring that what they import from China is safe for consumers. In many cases, there is no way they can buy direct from China and pay for all the inspections and lab tests that are necessary, and still make a margin.
An interesting article was published yesterday in Seattle News: US Buyers Must Beware In China. It tries to understand how children products imported from China are still made of prohibited substances:
China’s latest quality controversy erupted this week after an investigation by The Associated Press found that 12 of 103 pieces of Chinese-made children’s jewelry bought in U.S. stores contained at least 10 percent cadmium, some in the 80-90 percent range. Two others were found to have less than 10 percent in laboratory tests and the rest had none.
Cadmium, like lead, can hinder brain development in young children, according to recent research. It also causes cancer.
They followed a small American importer, Mr. Smith, in a buying trip to Guangzhou:
It’s small U.S. buyers like Smith who are playing a key role in importing untested products from Chinese factories that ignore safety standards and cut corners to earn a bit more profit.
They often fly into China for a whirlwind buying trip and don’t have the time or resources to properly assess their suppliers. Many don’t bother to perform quality checks as the goods are being made. Blind faith is a key element in the business deal.
He has been coming to China for 15 years, he said, and was confident he has developed a good eye for jewelry that might contain lead.
“I’ve learned that you make bad decisions when you’re tired, and don’t buy at the first place you see,” said Smith, whose two stores in Tucson are called A Beaucoup Conge.
What is the root of the problem? The following explanations are spot on:
American businessman Rick Goodwin, who has worked in China for 20 years, said the country has plenty of unscrupulous factories. But he said a major problem was foreign buyers who, because of greed, naivete or ignorance, approach China like it’s just a discount shopping center.
The country is really a developing nation, where buyers need to be highly selective about the factories they use, Goodwin said.
“You just can’t fly into China, get off the airplane and say, ‘Can you take me to the jewelry department please?'” said Goodwin, chairman of Concept Holdings, a company based in the southern city of Dongguan. The firm deals with goods as varied as T-shirts, hunting knives, ceramics and lapel pins.
Goodwin said jewelry dealers should only buy from factories that use XRF sensors – a handheld gun that tests for cadmium, lead and several other toxic metals. He said his company bought its own XRF gun, which costs between $35,000 to $50,000, so it can do its own tests.
“If the factory can’t afford to buy that gun, they shouldn’t be making your product,” he said.
I agree with all this, but the last sentence might be a little extreme. A buyer can have samples randomly drawn and sent to a third-party laboratory, who will be able to suggest a list of tests. I’d bet that cadmium is on their list, as well as lead and nickel. But, once again, a small buyer who takes 100 pcs of each type of cheap fancy jewels cannot make a profit if his costs include such tests.
When it comes to small importers, has direct sourcing gone too far?