We have been hearing about the recalls of “Made in China” toys, due to the presence of lead, for quite some time now. Each time this lead contamination issue is raised, fingers immediately start pointing towards the lack of quality controls on the Chinese end, and the blame falls squarely on the manufacturing facilities in China.
In light of this, I found the following statements by a contract manufacturer in China very interesting (source: BBC). According to the manufacturer, the root cause of substandard “Made in China” products lie in the cost cutting pressures imposed by western customers (companies who outsource manufacturing to Chinese contractors). Here are a few juicy excerpts from the article:
There are many contract manufacturers in China, just like my company, and they get all the blame for the low-quality of Chinese-made products. But that is not correct.
As an export director, I have personally experienced pressure to reduce costs by hook or by crook or lose big contracts that are vital for the survival of our company.
We, as contract manufacturers, get the material, apply the paint and prepare everything for mass production. But if the big brand comes back to us and asks us to cut costs, our only option is to compromise on materials.
We know that quality gets compromised. Our customers [the big brand companies] know it too.
We employ 5,000 people in our company. A contract ensures the survival of our business. If we don’t get a contract we lose our jobs and we can’t provide work for our workers.
Of course we’ll use cheaper paint if we have to.
Then when there’s a problem, the responsibility is passed down to the small guy. He speaks no English, he has no internet and no website - he has a workshop in a corner of a street, trying to make a living.
So now we know where it all begins.
Of course, after all the furore, laws will be passed and obvious dangers will be taken care of (where they are most easily visible) - but that’s not going to stop western companies from pressurizing for lowering the manufacturing costs. The lead contamination problem may stop soon (hopefully), but then, something else will take it’s place and the cycle will continue till the root causes are addressed.
Let’s see if a short “Why” analysis might point us in the right direction.
Why do Chinese manufacturing contractors use cheap lead-based paints?
- Because, they want to keep the costs as low as possible and still maintain certain degree of profitability.
Why do they want to keep costs down to the minimum?
- Because their western customers are threatening to rescind their contracts in the absence of heavy discounts.
Why are the western customers (our beloved corporations) putting so much pressure on the Chinese manufacturers for cost cutting?
- Hmm.. it becomes interesting here. Think about it.