Beware the toymaker’s tale

Toxic Barbie dolls and contaminated toothpaste are not the only products from China’s factories making headlines.
Recent reports of mistreatment of workers and even slave labour have shocked the domestic population as well as the nations that rely heavily on the ‘workshop of the world’ for its cheap exports.
The OP industry, which itself relies massively on manufacturing in China, is also feeling the effects of poor standards – with potentially dangerous results.
In August this year, the Beijing Olympic organising committee terminated a licensing contract with Lekit Stationery after an investigation found it guilty of employing child labour.
The news was an example of how the operating standards, which have provided cheap exports for Western companies for the past few decades, can mean mixing with some dubious working practices. But for the products themselves, the results of low manufacturing standards can often only be realised when the products are opened after arriving with the end user.
A product manager of a large UK dealer group recently passed some computer cleaning wipes, manufactured in China, to a salesperson for pricing and comparison with a customer. Once opened the crepe paper tubs were discoloured, and one tub had mould growing on it.
The ‘cleaning’ wipes were far from the "quality product" labelled on mouldy packaging – very embarrassing for the dealer and potentially damaging for the industry as a whole.
"Can you imagine how the end user would feel coming to clean something and opening the tub to find it already turning colour and growing mould- asked an industry source.
The products also had misleading labels. Normal pressure gas air dusters in the UK and many parts of Europe are 400ml.However, the spurious cans were labelled 400g – substantially less than 400ml (by about 50ml). Would an end user realise the difference? Perhaps not, but there is a significant cost difference between what they might expect and what they are actually getting.
"I think the message is very clear here – check where products are actually manufactured and certainly the specifications. When it comes to cleaning and hygiene products, costs can be invisibly reduced by reduction in the amount of cleaning chemicals – by increasing the amount of water or not using polyviscose tubs and substituting these with crepe paper, which will turn yellow with age, shortening the shelf life."
Not to mention the dangers of wipes and sprays containing unknown levels of potentially toxic cleaning chemicals.
Louise Shipley, Fellowes’ senior European marketing manager for office productivity, is not about to take such chances. The company sources all of its office equipment cleaning products in the EU, conforming to COSHH (control of substances hazardous to health) rules.
Under the guidelines, anything that cleans is classed as a hazardous substance. Shipley said Fellowes is required to supply material safety data sheets (MSDS) to its customers, containing details about what the product contains and what to do in an accident. Some 95 percent of Fellowes’ customers request to see the sheets.
"It gives them peace of mind that should anything happen with the product they know exactly what they have to do to remedy it, and that really drives what we put into our products," said Shipley.
"If we source from the EU it means we can manufacture the product and get it to the customer much quicker than if it’s being transported on water for a significant amount of time.
"I would be less confident if it came from China. We feel that it was important that our cleaning products were completely safe and met with EU regulations, and that we could be confident that our manufacturer was meeting those regulations too."
Although Fellowes does source other product lines from China, the potentially hazardous nature of cleaning products and the longer transit times means there is an increased chance of damage to such sensitive goods.
New EU Biocides Products regulations are due to come into play in 2009 to control quality in the future. The guidelines will be welcomed by all local manufacturers but the real benefit would be to avoid a Mattel-style recall that leaves the industry damaged and end users at best shaken or, worse, harmed.