[DEBATE] : (Fwd) 'Fong Kong' - not *just* xenophobia
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Dec 12 04:26:59 GMT 2007
11 December 2007
Quality of Chinese exports to SA in spotlight
Consumer Industries Correspondent
THERE has been a steady flow of substandard Chinese products entering SA
this year, from contaminated dog food to paraffin stoves that blow up
when you least expect it.
China, which has found itself under constant fire this year, hastened in
August to assure the public that 99% of its exports were safe. This
followed a recall in the US of 83 types of toys from the much-respected
Fisher-Price, including Big Bird and Elmo, for containing potentially
The European Union (EU) came out in defence of China last month, saying
Chinese authorities “have made a significant effort” to follow up
warnings by various authorities.
It says China started putting steps in place to ensure that toys and
other products exported to the EU were safe.
Consumer Goods Council of SA crime prevention programme head Michael
Broughton says all in the supply chain bear responsibility for making
sure goods sold are safe, and retailers should be stricter when
interrogating supply chain integrity.
Yet it’s not always that easy, he says. Who would have thought of
looking for melamine, used in plastic floor tiles, in a dog food ingredient?
“How do you test for something that has no right to be there?”
He says there is no way of knowing how many products brought into SA are
counterfeit or substandard.
Broughton says all the larger, genuine retailers would be diligent in
not importing substandard items yet the risks for those who flout the
law are minimal.
Less than 7% of containers coming into SA’s ports are inspected by
customs officials — on a par with global standards. “Even at 7%, it’s
still economi- cally feasible to import counterfeit items,” Broughton says.
Counterfeiters also make use of mechanisms to avoid being caught, such
as front companies and fake delivery addresses.
On genuine imports, companies still risk being duped even if they have
sent staff to the factory for quality control.
“It could just be window-dressing,” Broughton says.
And, in many instances, there would have been no rational reason to test
for some of the chemicals found in products recently.
Broughton says random testing on food items would take place because of
security issues but there would be no reason to test every item being
imported for every possible contaminant.
Initially, electrical goods would be tested by the South African Bureau
of Standards (SABS) and then a certificate would be issued if it fitted
local specifications — but no test would be run to make sure there were
no poisons in the plastic, for example. “So these things get discovered
The reason fake and substandard products are becoming endemic is because
of greed, he says. Counterfeiters simply trade off someone else’s brand
without having to build a reputation, while substandard products mean
cheaper input costs and higher margins.
Massmart commercial executive Jay Currie says that when importing goods,
such as general merchandise, some categories are required to meet SABS
standards, while others do not.
He says when goods have to meet SABS standards, Massmart has to get a
letter of authority from the bureau, which may entail sending a sample
Currie says most Massmart goods are imported through trading houses and
buying agents, who bear the burden of ensuring compliance. Compliance is
enforced by spot SABS checks.
“The bureau has the right to confiscate products that do not meet
compulsory specifications,” Currie says. “For any category of goods not
specified by the SABS, we hold our buyers accountable to the Massmart
code of ethics and expect them to do the right thing with respect to our
clients and the law. Typically, this involves a certification process
similar to the SABS requirement.”
Currie says well-meaning retailers could end up with sub-standard
products because of language barriers, cultural differences and the
number of parties involved. This made dealing with Chinese firms
Broughton says grey, or parallel, imports are legal but there are rules
against retailers importing them directly instead of through local agents.
Currie says legislation is increasingly covering issues such as labels
containing information on content and country of origin, and retailers
will bear more of a liability burden than manufacturers in the future.
“Big retail brands belonging to public companies are likely to lead the
charge on safety and quality, given the level of scrutiny that they need
to perform and the extent of the liability that mistakes could have on
their brands,” he says.
Pick n Pay, which performs in-house laboratory tests, says many
retailers in SA abide by the British Retail Consortium’s food standards
to plug gaps in domestic standards.
The consortium has a range of standards which food retailers in the UK
abide by, says Pick n Pay spokeswoman Tamra Veley.
Departments such as health and agriculture are responsible for
inspecting imported products but are unable to test everything entering
SA. Suppliers thus need to make sure they have a verification process in
The retailer performs spot testing but suppliers need to be able to
verify that the end product and the raw materials that went into it are
safe and comply with the law. Otherwise, they may not supply Pick ’n
Pay, Veley says.
More information about the Debate-list