Archive for the ‘quality’ Category

Tainted pills hit U.S. mainland

February 6, 2008

By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press Writer

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The first warning sign came when a sharp-eyed worker sorting pills noticed that the odd blue flecks dotting the finished drug capsules matched the paint on the factory doors.

After the flecks were spotted again on the capsules, a blood-pressure medication called Diltiazem, the plant began placing covers over drugs in carts in its manufacturing areas.

But the factory owner, Canadian drug maker Biovail Corp., never tried to find out whether past shipments of the drug were contaminated — or prevent future contamination, according to U.S. regulators.

Thirteen of the 20 best-selling drugs in the United States come from plants on this island. But an investigation….

China’s Unsafe Product Crackdown; An Update

January 6, 2008
By AUDRA ANG, Associated Press Writer

BEIJING – Last August, the Chinese government unleashed its most extensive campaign since the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, the mysterious killer disease. The goal: to shore up China‘s battered reputation as a manufacturer of quality goods.

As the four-month initiative — part crackdown, part public relations drive — ended in December, experts say China has taken significant steps toward addressing product quality and safety problems. But they also note the risk of backsliding in a country with a convoluted bureaucracy and a well-documented history of local leaders ignoring edicts from the top.

“The events of the past six or so months do represent a watershed,” said Robert Kapp, a business consultant who headed the U.S. China Business Council from 1994 to 2004. “But watersheds are not always forever.”

“The problem may be very systematic by now, and I don’t know if the Chinese will overcome it,” he added.

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For Christmas, Toys in China Made Elsewhere This Year

December 15, 2007


SHANGHAI, China – When freelance writer Wang Jian shops for toys for her 5-year-old son, she’s happy to pay extra for Legos blocks and Japanese-brand train sets.

A mother and a son look at toys at a department store Sunday ... 

The reason, she and other parents say: Foreign brands enjoy a reputation for higher quality — a perception reinforced by the product scares of recent months.

“We pay close attention to the news about toy and food safety. If I find a problem with a certain brand, I will just stop using it for sure,” said Wang, who writes for film magazines.

China may be Santa’s global workshop, but when it comes to buying playthings for their own children, Chinese families who can afford it opt for foreign-brand toys — even if they are made in China.

Quality and safety issues are drawing more attention as incomes rise and upwardly mobile Chinese grow more health conscious. While virtually all toys on the market, whether foreign or domestic brands, are made in China, factories making foreign brands are assumed to abide by more rigorous standards to screen out lead paint and other harmful materials.

“I dare not buy cheap wooden toys or toys with paint,” said Lin Yan, a professor at Shanghai International Studies University, whose 7-year-old daughter tested for elevated levels of lead in her blood.

“I have a stupid standard: I buy her expensive toys in big department stores. I can only assume most of the expensive ones are foreign brands and are guaranteed to have better quality,” said Lin.

When her daughter is given toys she suspects are unsafe, she throws them away.

“Sometimes they have indescribable odors,” she said.

The preference is evident in the gargantuan New World Department Store in Shanghai‘s commercial heart.

Shelves are crowded with foreign-brand models and remote-control cars, the ubiquitous Legos from Denmark, Mattel Inc.‘s Barbies, Transformers made by Japan‘s Bandai.

Chinese-brand toys are crammed into a few shelves stacked with dolls and toddler toys made by Star Moon Toys, a manufacturer in the southern city of Dongguan that also makes toys for some of the world’s biggest brands.

China‘s toy market is still in its infancy. Domestic retail toy sales totaled $603 million in 2006, according to Chinese government figures. That’s a fraction of the $22 billion in U.S. toy sales last year, according to the research firm NPD Group.

The culture lacks an equivalent to the Christmas holiday toy binge in the United States; traditionally, children are given clothes and money for the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. It falls in February in 2008.

But times and tastes are changing. China toy sales are growing about 20 percent a year as living standards rise with the buoyant economy. Since most urban Chinese are limited by government policy to having one child, families are willing to spend lavishly on their sole offspring, especially for books and educational toys.

“The children’s market here is huge,” said Alice Tang, managing director for AT Licensing & Merchandising Ltd., a Hong Kong-based company that acts as licensing agent for brands such as Tezuka Productions, owner of Astro Boy and other Japanese cartoon figures.

Nationwide, most Chinese families devote less than $10 a year to toys, according to industry estimates. But families in Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities spend more than that in a month, according to a study by the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council.

“Sure, foreign brands toys are about 40 percent to 50 percent more expensive than domestic ones, but I think it’s worthwhile,” said Wang, a churchgoing Christian who raises her son with her computer engineer husband.

“The design is much better, unlike domestic-brand toys that kids get bored with quickly because the quality isn’t good. Plus, they break easily,” she said.

Wang says safety is her chief concern. She was not fazed by a summer recall in the U.S. of RC2 Corp.‘s wooden “Thomas & Friends” trains after they were found to have excessive amounts of lead paint. She buys plastic Thomas toys made by Japan‘s Tomy, which were not affected by the recall. Tomy makes the plastic trains; RC2 makes the wooden ones — both under license from HIT Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Thomas brand.

Tales of poor quality Chinese toys abound — dolls whose heads fall off, bicycles that rust and puzzles that don’t fit together. Such products are rarely seen in Western markets since the quality is far below what a foreign buyer would accept.

Foreign toys only began making inroads in China in the last 20 years as Hong Kong manufacturers began shifting production across the border in the 1980s. Though local toy brands accounted for 60 percent of sales in China last year, the top tier of the market was dominated by foreign-branded toys, the research group Euromonitor said in a recent report.

The summer safety scandals — in which millions of Chinese-made toy cars, trains, action figures and jewelry were recalled in the U.S. — also helped foreign toy companies. The government is now requiring many toy makers to qualify for safety and quality certifications, standards that foreign firms are used to meeting.

Also helping foreigners lead the way is adroit marketing, tying in merchandising campaigns with television shows and movies. Mickey Mouse and SpongeBob SquarePants products abound, despite government-backed promotions for Chinese cartoons.

At Haiping Toys, a typical small neighborhood shop in a working-class Shanghai suburb, shopkeeper Liu Yuping’s 7-year-old son knows the prices of all the toys, models and video games — mostly Hong Kong and Japanese brands.

“That’s 108 yuan (about $15),” he said of a sleek, silvery foreign-brand yo-yo. “It’s expensive but it’s really good.”

Local-brand yo-yos were piled on a table outside the store — priced at about $1.20.

“The foreign-branded products definitely sell better. Those are the ones the kids want,” said Liu. “The quality’s just so much better. The others, well …”

Still, local brands are all many families can afford.

Liu Xiaohui, 6, was happy enough with her new Barbie-lookalike and accessories, bought for about $1.60.

A genuine Barbie costs at least 10 times that — more than her mother, Tang Huiqin, who runs a food stall, says she can afford.

“We don’t buy her toys often. She shares with her cousins and her father makes her small wooden toys sometimes,” Tang said. “I don’t worry about the quality. It looks OK to me.”

“I am very happy,” Xiaohui said with a smile, “I dreamed of having a doll like this to dress up and take care of. It’s as pretty as the ones sold in the big stores, and Mom said she would make her more clothes.”

China may be losing its edge, survey says

December 14, 2007

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — China may be losing its competitive advantage, mainly because of rising costs, according to a survey of companies compiled by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

Rampant product piracy was another persistent problem highlighted in a report released Friday that was based on a survey of the group’s 1,600 corporate members.

“Some companies mentioned plans to move offshore to India or Vietnam,” said Norwell Coquillard, president of Cargill Investments China, an investment holding company of agribusiness giant Cargill Inc.

Still, he noted that most companies with operations in China were still planning to expand capacity on the Chinese mainland, often while moving factories and offices inland to smaller cities where costs are lower.

For many U.S. and other foreign companies, finding, paying for and retaining good employees remains the biggest challenge, the report said.

“More investment has come in and stretched the supply of talent,” said Stephanie Liu, human resources director in the Asia Pacific for Armstrong World Industries, a maker of flooring and building products. “There’s no sign of easing in the short term,” she said.

Meanwhile, a new labor law, due to take effect next year, has increased uncertainties over hiring and firing practices.

The Labor Contract Law, which takes effect Jan. 1, gives employees who have worked at a company for more than 10 years the right to sign contracts protecting them from being fired without a legitimate reason.

Some companies worry that the law might restore the “iron rice bowl” of lifetime employment practiced by China’s state sector during the era of central planning that followed the 1949 communist revolution, said Kent Kedl, general manager of the consulting firm Technomic Asia.

But Kedl said most U.S. companies had little to fear because their employment policies were general in line with international standards, unlike those of smaller local companies that often dismiss workers en masse to avoid paying bonuses, among other things.

“We don’t foresee a huge impact here,” he said.

U.S. economic slide hurts Asia

The report also said that the recent spate of product recalls of products ranging from tires to toothpaste due to safety and quality concerns is prompting U.S. businesses to become much more vigilant over how their products are made.

Virtually all the companies surveyed were raising standards, stepping up inspections and requiring more detailed specifications, though few said they would stop using products or materials made in China.

Problems with piracy of technology and products remained more or less unchanged from earlier surveys. Such problems are a perennial headache for both domestic and foreign companies operating in China: U.S. businesses say they lose billions of dollars each year due to the lack of effective enforcement of copyrights, patents and trademarks.

Despite the difficulties of doing business in China’s unpredictable, fast changing markets, most companies said they were profitable in 2007 and that their profitability improved.

“Business performance and financial results show many firms are realizing the market potential that China has long promised U.S. companies,” the report said. To top of page

United States firms recall over 90,000 Taiwan, Vietnam-made toys

October 13, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007
By Natasha T. Metzler, AP

WASHINGTON — More than 90,000 children’s products, most imported by J.C. Penney Co. Inc., are being recalled for containing dangerous levels of lead, a government safety group announced.

J.C. Penney recalled Chinese-made Winnie the Pooh play sets and decorative ornaments with a horse theme, as well as art kits made in Taiwan and Vietnam. Totaling 70,400, the toys imported and sold by J.C. Penney all had excessive levels of lead in their surface paint.

Lead is toxic if ingested by young children. Under current regulations, children’s products found to have more than 0.06 percent lead accessible to users are subject to recall.

Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman Julie Vallese said this round of toy recalls is “the direct result of the commitment that was made earlier this summer of cleaning the proverbial house.”

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