What’s the point of getting angry if you don’t have a solution to the problem?! (more on melamine and SME’s)

After watching hours of the milk scandal news from China and stock market news from Hong Kong my Chinese wife said to me yesterday, “You know why China is the sick man in Asia?  It’s because we are willing to kill ourselves for money.”

The “boycott made in china” calls do not seem so racist any more, especially now that Chinese are making the calls for the boycott themselves.

I don’t mean to mock the significance of the milk powder crisis in any way, but it’s not all that surprising that something like this has happened (again).  After the raucous nationalism of summer 2008 it seems like everyone forgot about all the humiliating recalls of the summer of 2007.  Everyone except for those of us who do QC for a living.

As the milk powder scandal shows, out in the trenches, over the past year, nothing’s really changed.  Sure, the toy industry is paranoid or has moved on to SEA countries, but no one else seems to be talking much about the recalls from so long long ago.  We still have the same issues with factories not meeting agreed upon standards, not understanding those standards in the first place, substituting cheaper domestic products in place of more expensive imported ones, using uncontrolled sub-suppliers, working rejected product back into approved stock, and of course purposeful and natural quality fade issues.

Whenever we have to deal with these issues I’m always amazed at how a QC issue can quickly turn into a debate over national superiority.  We’ve been in QC or rework negotiations (arguments) on behalf of clients numerous times where we’ve been told something like: “It’s good enough for the Japanese.” Or “Of course these are the correct numbers, do you think that a Chinese manager would lie to you?!” Or “You Americans think that everything has to be the best or it’s not good enough for you.”

Of course, QC has nothing to do with race or nationality.  But because it is often foreign QC personnel that identify substandard product, these conversations happen more often than you may think.  And you can bet they are thought, but not spoken even more often.

Like so many other issues in China, nothing will change in the quality of products being sold to the domestic (and international) markets until enough people get angry enough to force a change.  And then the change will only be effective if there is enough transparency in government to make sure that enforcement is effective and consistent.  Remember this tainted milk issue happed before, just 4 years ago.  And while there was anger and temporary outrage, which resulted in rich people buying milk in Hong Kong, nothing else really changed.  Reports are that as early as 2005 warnings about chemicals in milk went unheeded and the government actually allowed Sanlu to make milk powder without any inspections!!

Another thing that has to happen is that these big-crisis lessons have to become cross-applicable to individuals outside of the dairy industry.  Meaning, the lesson that bad-milk-can-kill-people-so-there-needs-to-be-better-regulations,-enforcement-and-QC needs to be transferred to other industries like: poorly built autos and auto parts, shoddy domestic consumer products, clothing with too many chemicals/dyes, all contaminated food products and, farther down the list, non-essential consumer products made for export.

But I fear that I may be asking for too much.  In my experience, I’ve found that Chinese can be brilliant, talented, capable and thoughtful—just like anyone else on the planet—given the right motivations and opportunities.  I’ve also found that the Chinese system (in government, education and business) rarely reward these traits.  More often than not, talented individuals do not have experience in cross-application of lessons or “thinking out of the box,” or standing out from the predominant group-think.  I don’t mean to say they can’t or won’t or always don’t act individualistically.  Just that it’s not common.

How many Chinese right now, who are not dealing personally with affects of the milk tragedy, are going to recognize that a lack of enforced regulations across the board in China and the consistently substandard products being passed off as acceptable are a chronic and deadly problem in China right now? When are Chinese people going to realize that they are entitled to the same quality as the rest of the world?  How many will realize that while calls to boycott all Chinese goods are often stupid and always extreme there are a significant number of real concerns that are not racially motivated?

We’ll see if anything changes here—for those of us that live with our children here, I pray they do.  But I won’t hold my breath.

OK, off the soapbox and onto what can be done about your individual products in China.

I’ve been harping on the test everything, test often mantra so much, I fear that people will get sick of hearing it.  But then we have a series of recalls like this and I realize that I’m not crazy and I’ve obviously not said it enough.  Here are some processes (from previous posts and published articles) that will help you immediately with your quality control in China (or anywhere else, for that matter).

First, the rules for working with Chinese factories.
Second, how to qualify an appropriate factory.
Third, here are the ways to avoid quality fade and ensure consistently good quality product.
Fourth, here are some tips on negotiations.
Fifth, here’s what you can do to make sure you get what you ask for.
Sixth, what to do about missed shipping dates.
And finally, here are some tips on returning product to China if all else has failed.

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