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Executive director - Quality Certification Alliance (QCA)

Compliance Chat

By Jeff Jacobs

About Jeff

Jeff is executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Prior to that, he was responsible for developing safe and compliant brand merchandise for Michelin. He has worked with brands in publishing, consumer products, broadcasting and film for over 30 years. Follow Jeff on Twitter, and QCA on Facebook.


Kiwi's Coaching Corner

Paul  Kiewiet
But How Can I Be Different?
Aug 27, 2015

You sell the same stuff from the same suppliers to the same people the same way, and then you complain...

Lights, Camera, Promotion!

Brittany Hahn
Product Videos Take Over Cyberspace
Aug 26, 2015

In the promotional product world, product videos are a beautiful combination of one or more promotional products and some sweet,...

Not So Technically Speaking

Dale Denham
The Simple Solution to a Complex Problem
Aug 25, 2015

It's not usually very simple. Beware of people telling you they have the answers, especially when it comes to technology....

Jeff's Rant

Jeff Solomon, MAS
What Makes Our Industry Great?
Aug 20, 2015

I’ve been traveling lately and have a few more trips coming in the next month. Travel can be grueling, but...

Guest Blogs

Guest Contributor
Ask the Accountant
Aug 7, 2015

Question: I use the order system in QuickBooks Premier. Why don’t the customer sales order and supplier purchase order appear...

Million Dollar Mindset with Greg Muzzillo

Greg Muzzillo
11 Keys to Great Success in Life and Business: Key 4: Start Now
Aug 3, 2015

Many people have big dreams and lofty goals. Big dreams and lofty goals are easy. But there is one key ingredient...

Be Bold, Be Different, Be Memorable

Rick Greene, MAS
A Cycle Of Engagement
Jun 10, 2015

In 2015, the journey of the promotional products professional in shifting prospects to clients is more challenging than ever. With...

Beyond Words

Rebecca Kollmann, MAS+
Swing All the Way Through
Apr 20, 2015

From time to time, I’ve written about a situation involving one of my kids, and after observing something recently, it’s...

Selling Smarter

Rosalie Marcus
What Creates Customer Loyalty?
Apr 14, 2015

Did you know that April is International Customer Loyalty Month? Think about the businesses you consistently patronize. What have they...

Quick Thoughts by Cliff Quicksell, MAS

Cliff Quicksell, MAS
Measure the ROI at Trade Shows (Using the Right Mix of Creative and Promotional Products)
Dec 30, 2014

Every year more and more products are being introduced into the market, and after a while it all looks the...

Editor's Notes

Nichole Stella
The Perfect Match
Mar 5, 2013

The Super Bowl has also become the Ad Bowl, where brands duke it out to see who has the funniest,...


Kyle Richardson
The Best Laid Plans
Jul 11, 2014

Why it's always smart to keep a planner with your schedule and important documents, and why it's never smart to...

Promotional Fashionista

Colleen McKenna
5 Soccer Promotions for After the World Cup
Jul 1, 2014

Studies show that Americans prefer soccer to NASCAR. Here are five items to sell to soccer fans....

Mike's Blog

Michael Cornnell
Interview with Jason Black, CEO of Top Distributor Boundless Network
May 19, 2014

Ranking #19 on the Top 50 List, Black shares his thoughts on the future of the industry and what has...

The Hot Button

Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS
"How It's Made" Can Make You More
Jun 11, 2014

The show "How Its Made" is celebrating its 22nd season on television. How can we be a hit, season after season,...

Be Dazzled

Elise Hacking Carr
Got Control Issues?
May 14, 2014

Does chaos define you? How you respond to certain situations says a lot about your character. Here are five quotes...

Big Picture Promo

Matt Kaspari, CAS
Meeting Clients Where They Are
Oct 24, 2013

Promotional marketing is at its best when it empowers a client’s brand, meets his or her objectives and fits within...

My Two Cents

Rick Brenner
For Promotional Product Sales, Protect Your Client's Brand
Jun 3, 2013

Whether you are selling to a global brand like Nike or to your local YMCA, no single asset is more...

Friday Sales-thought of the Week!

Dale Limes, MAS
Reverse Engineer Your Sales Success
Mar 18, 2013

Steven Covey reminds us that when setting goals ... "Start with the end in mind." That is to visualize the...

The Sales Challenge

Bill Farquharson
Think and Succeed
May 29, 2012

What would happen if you woke up in the morning and your first thought was, "I am never going to...

Creating More Purposeful Sales Conversations

Lisa Leitch, CSP, MAS
Under 100 Days to Achieve 2011 Goals
Oct 20, 2011

It's hard to believe, but there are fewer than 100 days left to achieve 2011 goals! Are you on track...

When a Picture Says a Thousand Words: Bangladesh


As many of us enjoyed the leftovers of the Thanksgiving feast this past Saturday and Sunday, families on the other side of the globe had a much different—and devastating—kind of weekend. As flames subsided from a garment factory blaze outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, the images of the damage began to surface. All told, more than 100 people died in a tragedy that most likely could have been prevented had there been sufficient emergency exits.

Unfortunately, fires in offshore manufacturing facilities are not as unusual as you might think. There have been numerous fires in Bangladesh since 2006 with more than 300 killed, according to this story in the Washington Post. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story, as they reflect what the government has reported from deaths in the fires without accounting for those who died later or in other ways while trying to escape. The real number tops 500, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, an Amsterdam-based anti-sweatshop advocacy group, as reported in this article in the New York Times.

In September, a fire ravaged a textile factory complex in Karachi, Pakistan, killing nearly 300 who were trapped behind locked doors. And this was just hours after another fire at a shoe factory in nearby Lahore took the lives of 25 more, as the New York Times reported in this article.

As these events attest, potentially innocuous management decisions—such as placing evacuation stairs on the inside rather than outside of a building or locking doors to deter theft—can, and do, have unintended consequences.
It only takes a single image to undo even the most successful campaigns in the eyes of your customers—and many of them will never forget what they’ve seen in the news. Headlines from Bangladesh and Pakistan only underscore why social accountability audits remain the primary inspection requested and, in many cases, required by end-buyers.

Why Audit?

From the late 1980s, social accountability audits have become increasingly popular, largely as a result of offshore manufacturing. Throughout the 1990s, many U.S. household brand names were identified in exposés of child labor, failure to pay wages, forced labor and factory fires. To satisfy Corporate America’s shareholders’ burgeoning appetite for greater sourcing accountability from their companies, a proliferation of proprietary accountability programs ensued. While all focused primarily on human rights, few of them measured the same things in the same way.

What’s In An Audit? Semantics And Social Compliance

Over time, there have been shifts in not only what is evaluated during social accountability audits but also in what terms are used to identify the content of the audit. As one would expect, human rights are most certainly a component of these examinations, as is advocacy for the workers producing the products manufactured on behalf of brands whose programs are placed in the factory.

This approach became even more apparent in 2000, when the United Nations (U.N.) Global Compact Initiative was launched to standardize audit scope. The U.N. Global Compact, a voluntary corporate sustainability initiative, is administered through the U.N. Global Compact Office and receives support from six U.N. agencies, including the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights.

The Compact’s objective is “sustainability,” and its compliance standards are focused not only on human rights but also labor, environment and anti-corruption. By incorporating a four-pronged approach, the Compact has changed the conversation from one focused on “human rights abuses”—an idea that conjures notorious images of ruthless dictators and marauding ethnic clans—to one about “ethical manufacturing practices” that is rooted in laws written by the governments of the countries in which those laws are applied.

Altering the way we talk about conditions in the workplace—and, in this case, the factory—allows us to use the principles in the Charter to move beyond a black-and-white “human rights abuse” conversation to a practical discussion with an array of business tools for fixing the problem. By simply posing the questions using more accurate vocabulary, all parties involved can begin to envision different responses and meaningful corrective actions.

Managing Risk: What Do You Do With What You Know?

As these types of stories continue to make headlines, end-buyers increasingly want to know their products are created in a production environment that is not only aware of ethical manufacturing standards but is also actively engaged in process improvements that emphasize implementation of best practice corrective actions. They truly want the “accountability” in social accountability—and they want the audit data to prove it.

But some belittle physical audits as nothing more than “picture day,” where the factory figuratively gets dressed in it’s Sunday best to impress the auditors and then proceeds with business as usual once the regulators leave. This is an easy out for those who haven’t experienced the depth of information revealed in an audit or who haven’t received the guidance audits provide in how to potentially improve their business. Audits invariably uncover a road map to process-improvements that can—and do—make a significant difference to how a business operates. The question is: What do you with the information you glean?

Tazreen Fashions, the site of the Bangladeshi fire, for example, is said to have received an Orange rating (think of the “orange” traffic light you ran on your way to work) from Wal-Mart in its most recent audit, according to this article in the South China Morning Post. And this was after the manufacturer received a Yellow rating in August last year. Clearly, the warning signs were there—but they were ignored or fell through the cracks in a rush to meet the perceived consumer demands in the U.S. and Europe.

Nothing was done to manage the risks, and many are paying the price. Workers are dead, their families permanently altered from the needless loss. The retailers and brands whose goods were produced in the factory are struggling to control an explosive situation during peak holiday season. And the importer that placed the order with Tazreen Fashions without authorization now finds its relationship terminated with the retailer—permanently and publicly.

Epilogue: Now What?

As terrible as recent factory fires have been, the news cycle continues marching on, replacing one tragic event with another above the fold. Memories may fade over time, but the reality is that Corporate America is increasingly entrusting entire promotional programs to our industry. The expectation is that we will manage these programs responsibly—and we absolutely must. The future success of our market depends on it.

D E Fenton is executive director - compliance for Quality Certification Alliance (QCA), the promotional product industry's only independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping companies provide safe products. With more than 20 years of compliance experience, she offers practical advice and actionable tips that help make the complex concept of compliance easier to understand so companies can implement compliance into their daily business practices. She can be reached at or visit for more information.


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