It seems impossible that this could happen, but once again a contaminated product from China has led to fatal consequences in the U.S. This time, it’s adulterated heparin (a blood thinner) which has killed nineteen individuals since January 1, 2007.
Obviously this is a wake-up call for the U.S. government, which seems to have hit the snooze button over the poison toys problem. But there’s a deeper issue here that we need to think about. It’s choosing between a culture of mediocrity and a culture of quality.
For the sake of the U.S. manufacturing industry, we had better choose quality.
Here’s the argument: When it comes to manufacturing the lowest quality item that can still be sold – fasteners, automobile tires, toy soldiers, you name it – American manufacturers can’t compete with China or other low-wage countries. According to Conference Board wage rate statistics recently reported by Supply Chain Digest, the average wage in China is $0.98 per hour. (For equipment manufacturing, it’s a little higher – $1.35 per hour.) A those labor rates, Chinese factories can flood the world with barely-good-enough products for years to come (including some that are truly dangerous), and there’s nothing American manufacturers can do to stop them.
What American manufacturers can do is work on the demand side. Specifically, manufacturers can find ways to band together and educate the public to the value of quality.
In the past, Made-in-U.S.A. ad campaigns have been deployed from time to time, but they have tended to focus on patriotism. Nothing wrong with that, but there needs to be a self-interest component as well. And there is. If you buy a quality garment, tool, vehicle, or anything else, it will last longer than the cheap competitor, and give you better service throughout its life. I’ve lived long enough to know that’s true. But it’s a message that needs to be broadcast to the general public- including our children – over and over, to counteract the temptation to buy the cheaper, lower-quality item in the hopes it will somehow be good enough, and not fail on the freeway at seventy miles per hour or cause an allergic reaction that kills you.
Obviously, there are some items where cheap is probably the best choice. Shoes for your fast-growing five-year-old come to mind. But in general, quality products are the better buy. And the less money you have to spend, the wiser it is to buy something that will last. that’s what the culture of quality is all about.
In today’s global economy, American manufacturers can take the high ground on quality. It’s possible. But winning the quality battle on the factory floor won’t make any difference unless there’s a sustainable – or better yet, growing – market for quality products. Hence the need for consumer education.
I’ll write about practical steps that can be taken in future blogs.