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Is it safe to produce children’s apparel in China?

by Steve Mogentale

Yes, but not just any factory will do.

Most Chinese garment factories fall well short of Western standards for safety, and I am not talking about working conditions. The gap I am talking about is evidenced by the high number of factories that lack metal-detection equipment and clear policies for controlling broken needles. This is compounded by the demographic shift we are seeing that is bringing increasingly older workers into the factories as the younger generations have decided that factory work is not for them. Why do I mention this? Pay close attention to how many of the “older” workers on the sewing line are wearing corrective lenses. What happened to the needle after it was misplaced?

Broken Needle records are used to track all needles that are broken during production, to prevent dangerous metal fragments from reaching the end consumer.

Partnering with a factory in China to produce children’s apparel may significantly reduce your overhead, but it also poses reputational risks and liabilities that need to be addressed before you place an order. So what do you need to do?


Conduct a supplier review to assess the factory’s capabilities. Let your auditing partner know that metal detection – specifically needle control – is a major focus of the audit. Some factories will have the equipment, but is there someone around who knows how to calibrate and operate it? Is there a clearly-documented procedure for what to do when a needle is broken? Do the relevant employees understand this procedure, and can you be reasonably sure that they actually follow it?

Calibration reports should be regularly updated, indicating that all metal-detection equipment is working correctly.

A high-level factory will generally follow a procedure as outlined below:

  1. Operators are not permitted to keep broken or extra needles at their work area.
  2. To obtain a new needle, the operator must first present the entire original needle to the appropriate supervisor.
  3. All broken needles must be affixed to the broken needle record and secured for storage of at least 6 months’ time.
  4. Garments are passed through a metal detector twice as a final check immediately prior to packaging.
  5. If metal is detected, all garments on the conveyor belt at the time must be quarantined and then scanned individually.
  6. If metal is detected during the second scan and cannot be found after a physical search, usually using a handheld detector, the article must be destroyed and absolutely cannot be packaged for shipment.

Metal-detecting equipment is only effective if every single garment passes through it before packaging!

Location is everything

The final detector must be situated so that no garment may be packaged without having first passed through the detector. Do not be fooled by a factory that has the detector prominently displayed, but in an ineffective location. If you see the proper placement when you visit a factory or in your auditor’s report detailing the factory’s QA and QC processes, chances are that you are working with a high-level supplier who takes metal detection in children’s products very seriously.

Steve Mogentale is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in China for US and EU clients. Steve also writes for the QC-related blog, Quality Wars.

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