Although makers are working on improving IQC, substituting materials with safer options and turning to other export destinations are more viable solutions.
With raw materials often being cited as the cause of safety problems, China manufacturers of finished products are trying to implement stricter measures for monitoring and evaluation. For the most part, however, companies are simply using alternatives or switching to export markets with less stringent safety requirements.
|Xiamen International Trade uses PU fabric as an alternative to PVC, which contains the banned plasticizer phthalate, on bags for export to the EU.|
Suppliers, particularly OEM makers, employ materials based on buyers' specifications. The assumption is that customers know better which materials are suitable for export to their markets. On the part of the manufacturers, they often rely on test reports given to them by their suppliers to certify the materials meet physical and chemical requirements. Buyers who choose to have an independent laboratory verify the test findings can do so at their own expense.
The problem with this process, however, is that raw material providers may send different batches to the testing agency and the factories. Choosing to work with a long-term supplier may not necessarily eliminate that risk, as evidenced by the Mattel case three years ago. A manufacturer from Foshan, Guangdong province, relied on its long-term paint supplier to ensure lead content was within limits. The toys, however, showed excessive amounts of lead, resulting in a massive recall from US shelves.
Some companies, including Zhejiang Tongfeng Arts & Crafts Co. Ltd, are now taking a more proactive approach to minimizing product safety problems from raw materials. The toys and gifts company evaluates each and every batch of incoming materials for compliance with safety, chemical and physical requirements.
But this measure is taxing, costly and time-consuming. As such, other suppliers prefer to suggest safer alternatives to buyers' preferred materials instead. Xiamen International Trade & Industrial Co. Ltd, for instance, used to offer sports bags made from PVC fabric. But when the EU banned products containing phthalate, the company had to find a suitable alternative. Since its customers deemed phthalate-free PVC too expensive, PU fabric is employed instead.
Sports bottle maker Zhejiang Yongkang Huachuan Electric Appliances Co. Ltd had adopted a similar strategy. The inner wall of aluminum models usually needs to be coated to retain the beverage's temperature longer. But the coating may contain phenolic resin, which may cause respiratory diseases or cancer. As such aluminum bottles entering the EU must have a phenolic resin gross migration of less than 60mg/kg. Suppliers not willing to comply with the requirement, however, are likely to turn to other markets such as Southeast Asia.
Buyers in those destinations pay more attention to price than raw materials or product safety issues. PVC fabric, for instance, is not banned in the Middle East and Africa.
Although Xiamen International is considering adopting PVC fabric on low-end sports bags, the company stresses that inexpensive does not necessarily mean unsafe. In many cases, fabrics are priced lower because they are thinner and have a lower yarn count.
But there are some suppliers that will risk using inferior materials to widen their margins. A number of home furniture exporters in Foshan, for instance, incorporate substandard sponge padding, which may not be as flame-retardant as the unscrupulous makers claim them to be. Unless tested thoroughly, such discrepancies are not easy to detect.
Similar deception occurs in the mobile phone industry. Based in Shenzhen, Guangdong, mobile phone maker Power Idea Technology Co. Ltd said a few small suppliers will quote lower prices to close an order. But the quality of the materials they will use is lower than what they indicated to the buyer. Instead of adopting virgin ABS, for instance, such manufacturers may include recycled ABS into the mix to reduce raw material costs. While the use of recycled plastic is not prohibited in nonfood-grade products, employing the material decreases the physical properties and performance of the finished goods. Recycled ABS is not as durable and shiny, and the colors are less sharp.
Note: This article "Alternate materials, markets workaround to safety issues" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.
All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.
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