Kimberly Palmer, writing in the US News & World Report Alpha Consumer blog, relates her interview with Paul Midler, author of Poorly Made in China: An Insider’s Account of the Tactics Behind China’s Production Game. Midler attempts to explain why some Chinese-made products suffer from poor quality (when he’s done with this, he can do the same for the rest of the world!) Midler believes that a big part of the problem is miscommunication, but his explanation sounds more like a description of dishonesty than a mere failure to communicate. ” Manufacturing companies that produce a substandard product often know what the problem is with their product, but they don’t provide much of a hint to their customers,” says Midler. “This means that importing companies have to guess at where corners may have been cut. It’s a dangerous situation for all of us to be in, actually.” Other comments emphasize the point. For example:

“Should we have been surprised at what happened when we took our production orders to an economy that is different than our own, where controls are lacking, where business ethics are in short supply?”
“I became aware of how factories would make unilateral changes to products without informing their customers.”
” So long as there are manufacturers who are trying to game the system by circumventing testing systems, consumers will have to be concerned about products coming from China.”
“… you also have some rather willful game playing where quality is manipulated in such a way so as to fool laboratory equipment and inspection.”

I’ve spent some time in China, and in other countries as well. I’ve found that people are people. I have no reason to believe that the Chinese I dealt with were any less ethical than the Americans I dealt with. In all cases I advised my employers and clients to follow Ronald Reagan’s doctrine for dealing with the Soviet Union: trust, but verify. Be sure that your suppliers have adequate quality management systems, process control systems, inspection systems, and documentation. Visit them to establish personal relationships and to verify firsthand that they do what they say. If needed (something you decide) put source inspectors in the supplier facilities. Conduct your own validation tests and receiving inspection.

Suppliers tend to understand when their customers are serious about quality. When they realize that they’re dealing with customers who take quality seriously, and back this up by putting verification and tracking systems in place, they tend to respond. If they don’t, your systems will detect it in time to protect your customers and your reputation. It works if the suppliers are across the street, or halfway around the world.

One response to “Does Lack of Ethics Explain China’s Quality Control Problems”

  1. Gene Barker Avatar
    Gene Barker

    My experience is the same as yours. I have not found the Chinese to be any less ethical then others.

    One mistake that many US companies make when offloading work to China and other countries is that they fail to explain the “why” behind “what” they want. This is especially true when specifying the use of a specific process. They then encourage the supplier to innovate. People in any culture will provide a WHY – and in most cases it will not be correct. They will then use that WHY as a check when making changes. And customers that require that suppliers review every change with them before implementation do not adequately resource this review process to provide timely responses. This leaves the suppliers faced with pressure to reduce costs and improve delivery. The result will be process changes and other actions that make technical sense to the supplier based upon their self-determined WHY, but may be in direct conflict to the true why. And many process changes are not readily detected by final inspection techniques.

    It is important that the customer provide onsite support, process oversight be conducted and that personal relationships be established. This includes never demanding more from the supplier and his processes then can consistently be expected. The customer must “walk the Talk” – a tough demand but one that must be meet anywhere in the world.

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