Guest Column: A Checklist for Import Safety

New York — September 10, 2007 — Recent waves of import product bans, alerts, recalls and news headlines have generated extreme consumer shock around the world. The global media frenzy affects all companies that source products abroad for domestic consumption by challenging their import safety practices.

Consumers are horrified by (and importers are trying to minimize the damage of) the alarming headlines including "As More Toys Are Recalled, the Trail Ends in China," "China Toy Boss Kills Self after Recall," "China Executes Former Head of Drugs Safety Agency for Bribery," "Why the West Must Regulate China's Exports," "Wider Sale Is Seen for Toothpaste Tainted in China," "F.D.A. Issues Alert on Chinese Seafood," "China Shuts Plants that Produced Tainted Medicine, Pet Food," "U.S. Calls on China to Improve Export Safety" and "The Little Engine That Could Poison".

The torrential problems facing today's exports from China should serve as a wake up call for all importers that the time to act is now — be proactive and not reactive. Do not wait to be the media subject of the next consumer product recall, scandal or catastrophe. While today's focus may be on China-made or sourced products, it is not the only goods and materials source for large-scale importers. Make no mistake — unsafe and hazardous imports can originate from anywhere around the world and companies need to focus on their entire global supply chain, layer-by-layer, to know all that is necessary to ensure that the safety and quality of those products is not inferior or somehow compromised.

President Creates Import Safety Working Group

On July 18, President Bush issued Executive Order 13439 establishing an interagency working group on import safety. Chaired by the secretary of health and human services, the group includes members from key agencies such as Secretary of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Homeland Security, Attorney General, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Trade Representative, Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The group is tasked "to identify actions and appropriate steps that can be pursued, within existing resources, to promote the safety of imported products." The group's focus will include: foreign governments, foreign manufacturers, private sector exporters, U.S. importers, and federal, state and local government agencies. The working group has to report to the president within 60 days (by mid-September) unless extended.

"We'll be working with companies that import goods from around the world, to make sure that their practices meet the high standards that we set for the United States," President Bush said. Under the group's radar is the identification of best practices utilized by U.S. importers in:

  • Selection of foreign manufacturers;
  • Inspecting manufacturing facilities;
  • Inspecting goods produced before export or distribution in the United States;
  • Identifying origin of products;
  • Safeguarding the supply chain
Import Czar Position in the Making

What Are You Doing To Make Sure Your Imports Are Safe?

Import Safety Checklist



Safety Depends on Planning and Action

  • Build safety into product design
  • Do product safety testing for all foreseeable hazards
  • Keep informed about and implement latest developments in product safety
  • Educate consumers about product safety
  • Track and address your products' safety performance
  • Fully investigate product safety incidents
  • Report product safety defects promptly
  • If a defect occurs, promptly offer a comprehensive recall plan
  • Work with the agency to make sure your recall plan is effective
  • Learn from mistakes — yours and others'
Handbook For Manufacturing Safer Consumer Products


About the author: