I often get asked which product categories are at the highest risk for causing harm to people and damage to an end-user's brand. My regular answer applies a reasonable amount of common sense. It is fairly obvious that any products that appeal to children or those that go into or come in contact with our bodies carry more risk than other categories. This would prompt me to consider toys, food, personal care products and drinkware as categories you should be very concerned with who you are purchasing from and whether these categories are a true core competency for them. One caveat to this is that any product category is susceptible to social accountability issues and the resulting scandal from a Fortune 1000 company getting products that are manufactured in a factory that does not adhere to the UN Global Compact and violates human rights and child labor principles.
The more often I get this product category risk question, the more I am convinced that product category alone is not the proper way to identify your risk. It is certainly a major factor, but you can purchase a low-risk product from a high-risk supplier and find yourself in the same mess. You could also buy a high-risk product from a low-risk supplier and get hurt.
There are multiple factors that should be taken into consideration when determining your risk but one of the most critical is the question of core competency. Does the company I am purchasing from know anything about the product? Or are they just good at picking products at the Canton Fair while in China? Is the product category a core competency for them? Do they know where and who the product is actually being made by and to what standards? Do they have any transparency and control of their supply chain? Is there too much sourcing through trading companies who know a guy who can find a factory that can make it in China? After all, China doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to food and personal care items.