By Renaud Anjoran
Every day in China, in Vietnam, in Bangladesh, and in India, thousands of inspectors and auditors take a bus or a car to a factory. And, in some of those factories, managers are plotting how to cheat those unwelcome visitors.
Let’s look at 3 very common ways this is done, so you are warned and ready to avoid unscrupulous suppliers like this…
How factories cheat on social compliance (or ‘ethical sourcing’) audits
I remember listening to the general manager of a Chinese manufacturer we were consulting for, a few years ago. He was addressing his whole staff. His message was, in substance, as follows:
We are trying to get a new customer. It will mean more business, and in the end more work and more pay for you all.
However, first, we need to pass an audit. An auditor will come and check your working conditions, the way you are paid, and so on. In particular, they like to dig some nasty information about your days of rest and your working hours.
As you know, sometimes you work many hours and you skip a day of rest, and you agree with it because you get paid more. That’s what you all want, right?
So, we are preparing some documents that will show what the customer wants to see — no problem.
But, the auditor might also pull some of you aside. They will ask you questions. We need you to defend our company, so we get the new customer’s business! Remember, in the end, we all get more money if we succeed here.
So, you need to say that you never work more than 55 hours a week, and you always have an entire day of rest on Sunday. They won’t have any proof of the contrary, so you can say that, and they won’t be able to say ‘that’s not true’.
Over the years, more and more people have been wondering if these audits work. I personally think they are a huge waste of money.
How factories cheat on quality system audits
Quality audits are too often based on documents. Manufacturers often ask, ‘what documents will your auditor review?’, and will make sure some records are available on D-day… whether they correspond to reality or not!
I remember helping a manufacturer of aftermarket auto parts in Zhejiang, about 5 years ago. We were working on maintenance, calibration, and dimensional control to help them get a good score on an upcoming audit.
As I was walking down a hallway, I noticed new graphs on a board. They had pre-filled fake data about their first-pass yield all the way through the following week — until the audit scheduled date.
Bad habits die hard…
Unfortunately, most ISO 9001 implementations accentuate that problem.
So, how to avoid over-reliance on documents?
- Make sure the checklist calls for observation of practices in the workshop.
- Do unannounced audits (this is common in certain industries such as food).
- Conduct process audits instead.
How factories cheat on product inspections
I thought about this a bit, as I was not sure what example to pick — there are so many. Instead, I will give a few examples.
A factory can try and cheat at every stage of a quality inspection:
- Just before an inspection, the products can be temporarily ‘adjusted’. For example, underwear cut too small can be stretched, and eye-wear frames that are out of shape can be tweaked.
- At the sampling stage, some bad pieces can be placed at the bottom or at the back of a pile.
- During tests that require special equipment, that equipment’s accuracy can sometimes be manipulated.
- Fake certifications or test results can be presented for review — this is often a part of electrical products’ inspections.
- After inspection and before shipment, some bad products that were put aside from previous batches can be ‘salted’.
How to avoid this? Make sure a sound procedure is followed. I suggested some basic points before.
Using quality inspection software that provides a framework is one further step in the right direction.
Is this consistent with what you have observed? Leave a comment to share your experiences or thoughts on cheating inspectors or auditors, please.
Image credit: Scarletina on Morguefile, CC License
Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006. In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on qualityinspection.org.