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Executive director - Quality Certification Alliance (QCA)

Compliance Chat

By Jeff Jacobs

About Jeff

Jeff Jacobs is the executive director of Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Jeff was the director of brand merchandise at Michelin N.A., serving on its worldwide quality committee for promotional and licensed products. Prior to that, he worked with brands in publishing, home video and broadcasting.


Jeff's Rant

Jeff Solomon, MAS
A "Condemned" Supplier Shares the Truth!
Apr 17, 2014

There clearly are companies who operate in ways that are contrary to the traditional supplier/distributor model we are comfortable with....

Selling Smarter

Rosalie Marcus
Speak Now and Sell More!
Apr 15, 2014

How would you like a powerful marketing strategy that can position you as a leader in your field, put you...

Promotional Fashionista

Colleen McKenna
3 Ways to Style an Imprinted Tee
Apr 15, 2014

Imprinted T-shirts are in with the fashion elite. Here's how they are styling the tees....

Beyond Words

Rebecca Kollmann, MAS+
Adapting Your Style
Apr 14, 2014

Many of us have taken a behavioral style inventory at some point in our careers. While the intent of these...

Guest Blogs

Guest Contributor
The Anatomy of Emotional Marketing
Apr 11, 2014

You've probably heard the old adage: "It's the thought that counts." This could not be any truer, especially in business. When...

Kiwi's Coaching Corner

Paul  Kiewiet
Without People, Brands Have No Meaning
Apr 10, 2014

Brands are built over time but can be destroyed in an instant. This is why is it critically important to...

The Hot Button

Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS
Even Retirees Are Doing It
Apr 9, 2014

Even older clients who grew up with the "one-size-fits-all" adult T-shirt as their world are choosing to buy FASHION TEES....

Not So Technically Speaking

Dale Denham
Go Mobile or Go Home
Apr 8, 2014

I am, without a doubt, the most mobile CIO in the USA. Name one other CIO that is so committed...

Million Dollar Mindset with Greg Muzzillo

Greg Muzzillo
"Free Crab Tomorrow"
Apr 7, 2014

Joe's Crab Shack offers free crab tomorrow. That's because it's never tomorrow. All we have is today. I've talked to...

Quick Thoughts by Cliff Quicksell, MAS

Cliff Quicksell, MAS
6 Reasons Why Marketing Fails and How to Prevent It
Mar 31, 2014

When it comes to marketing, there are no guarantees. A great marketing idea that is poorly implemented or incorrectly presented...

Be Dazzled

Elise Hacking Carr
Go Green or Go Home
Mar 26, 2014

Earth Day is right around the corner. Need ideas for upcoming promotions? Here are three products that scream "I <3...

Be Bold, Be Different, Be Memorable

Rick Greene, MAS
5 Ways to Use LinkedIn to Land New Business
Feb 26, 2014

LinkedIn is a happening place. It is the unsung hero of social platforms and it can indeed be used to...

Mike's Blog

Michael Cornnell
Ads on NBA Jerseys: An Inevitability?
Feb 24, 2014

The NBA may be stating that they're no closer to on-uniform ads than they were in 2011, but that doesn't...


Kyle Richardson
New Year, New Site, New Magazine
Jan 31, 2014

This week, we announced the redesign of our home page and magazine. Let us know what you think about the...

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...

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,...

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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