The trick for distributors here is how to recognize who is running a socially responsible factory. When factories pop up at an unmeasurable pace and factories subcontract out to subcontractors, it is difficult to have transparency in your supply chain. "You'll find all levels of quality and product safety process knowledge, just like you'll find here in American factories," said Fenton. "There are advanced factories and there are places that you'd take a step into and immediately turn around and walk out of," she continued. A distributor's best bet is to ask questions—lots of them—and also request supporting documentation.
"Distributors should be asking their suppliers about their social accountability policies and the practices that those suppliers have in place to assure their manufacturing partners are producing product in a legal and ethical manner," Fenton explained.
While having a social accountability policy in place is a good place to start, it is a wise idea to dig even deeper. "If I were buying a specific product from a supplier, I would ask to see the supplier's in-house evaluation of the facility manufacturing the product. If my client were asking to see a third-party report, I'd ask the supplier to ask the auditor to release the audit directly to the client," said Fenton.
WHERE WE STAND AS OF RIGHT NOW
With many tough lessons learned, the Chinese government has also made advances in regulating Chinese manufacturing. "When the whole [toy] scandal broke out, the Chinese government really tried to become very strict about quality control," said Wang. "But we must understand this is a process. There have been product quality issues. Keep in mind the Chinese manufacturer, they compete on volume, on price, they try to cut corners whenever they can, because the margins are already very low. As Westerners, part of our responsibility is quality control."