China Quality Story

China quality story is very much in news these days. Today morning when I was talking with Anand I was trying to caution him for not giving any of those poisonous Chinese toys to Emma, our sweet little grand daughter. He laughed and wanted to know if I really believed the American media story. I said, “Unfortunately, Yes.”

Toys are the latest in the long-list of Chinese exports that have come under intense scrutiny in recent months because of safety concerns. Many a stories have appeared in Western media about the harmful toxic chemicals that have been found in products ranging from toothpaste to seafood and pet food ingredients. Are these knee-jerk media reactions or real concerns about the safety of the citizens, or means to make Americans rise against Chinese goods?

The US announced recalls of tens of thousands of Chinese-made children’s products because of lead hazards. The media is full with the list of damages that it can cause to a child. The exposure to lead can cause learning problems, reduced intelligence, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. And who will not believe it and be overcautious?

According to another report, Saudi Arabia has removed from shop shelves seven brands of Chinese toothpaste found to have a poisonous chemical in them. As reported on the website of the ministry of trade and industry, ‘tests had shown traces of diethylene glycol, too toxic for food and medicine.’

Some Chinese may be resorting to some unethical practices assuming that it will not come to the notice of the users. As reported, a Beijing factory recycled used chopsticks and sold up to 100,000 pairs a day without any form of disinfections. Officials raided the factory and seized about half a million pairs of recycled disposable bamboo chopsticks and a packaging machine. The owner had sold the recycled chopsticks for 0.04 yuan a pair and made an average of about 1,000 yuan ($130) a day. He had sold 100,000 pairs a day when business was good. How much of this happens in India and how much of that comes to our knowledge?

China has launched a four-month “war” on tainted food, drugs and exports through campaigns to clean up the country’s battered image. Chinese vice-premier Wu Yi wishes to focus on problem products that has corroded and eroded domestic and foreign consumers’ confidence in the “made in China” label and to protect the reputation of Chinese goods and the national image. While it may appear to some as an autocratic, top-down approach, it is bound to make an impact.

Makers of toys for export in Guangdong province will have to undergo ‘quality licensing’ as part of a new inspection system launched this week. The government agencies will keep a closer watch on not only finished products but also on potentially dangerous chemicals and paints.

In Guangzhou, capital of booming Guangdong province in south China, Mayor Zhang Guangning vowed to bankrupt serious violators of food and product safety. I wish the Chinese could emulate the Japanese.

However, I was shocked to read that a 52-year-old businessman, had apparently committed suicide, just days after Mattel blamed his company, Lee Der Industrial, in Foshan, in southern China, for the recall of one million toys coated in toxic lead paint.

The story further confirms how seriously the Chinese take the responsibility of failures, unlike the owners in India. Perhaps the Chinese have learnt and imbibed some values from Japanese (hara-kiri) unlike Indians who are learning everything from the materialistic west.

The reasons for these failures may be many. One may be the intense pressure from the western retailers who go on lowering the cost targets. The second may be the fierce local competition to meet it. Some blame it to the lack of business ethics and a spiritual vacuum. Money by any and all means has become the main aim of life.

While the official stand by the Chinese are different. On one hand, China is on the defensive over the safety of its products, and lashes out at the United States by claiming that American soybean exports contained pesticides, poisonous weeds and dirt. China still claims that a spate of product recalls has been unfair, biased and politically motivated. It also insists, “No country can guarantee their food to be 100% safe, but if one in 100 or even in 1,000 of our products has quality problems, we will deal with it seriously.”

Perhaps, India has been different with its better exposure to quality control techniques through its interactions with Japanese manufacturing systems that builds the quality in the process rather than inspecting it. India has also gone for some laudable achievement as clearly obvious from the number of Deming Prizes that it has grabbed.

Unfortunately, no report from China talked of establishing a better process quality system. China too must go for building in the quality and learn the finer aspects of quality improvements. Many of the Chinese manufacturers must not be knowing of the consequences of adopting some cost cutting tricks.

There may be many such unscrupulous manufacturers in India too who still take advantages of the ignorance and craze of the consumers. The system must detect them and weed them out. India must not get caught napping on quality issue.

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