Consumer Product Recalls Prompt Product Visibility Questions
Jim Phillips, Contributing Editor
H istorically, textile and apparel product recalls have been related to issues with flame retardancy or small objects that can become loose and pose choking hazards for small children. In comparison to consumer products in general, such recalls have been few and far between.
But the spate of recent consumer product recalls has prompted more than a few yarn spinners to ponder the potential impact on manufacturing of heightened consumer awareness about product safety issues. In recent years, numerous headlines have warned about contaminated lettuce, peanuts, pet food, chocolate and more; as well as unsafe product ingredients, such as lead-based paint in children’s toys.
As a result, many consumer product manufacturers are starting to respond to increasing demand for accurate and complete product information at every stage of the supply chain. Some yarn spinners say it’s just a matter of time before the textile industry also must address these issues.
“It’s coming,” said one yarn spinner about potential consumer demand for complete manufacturing visibility. “The focus of people right now seems to be mostly on food products, but you can see that extending to other sectors. Just recently, there were toy recalls because of potentially hazardous chemicals. Consumers want accountability from those who make and distribute the products they buy and consume. They want to know not only who makes the product, but who makes the various ingredients and add-ons. They want to know where and how products are stored and how they are distributed.”
Of particular note is the number of recent recalls of products originating from China. Toothpaste containing ethylene glycol — the primary ingredient in antifreeze — and popular Thomas the Tank Engine toys containing lead-based paint were recalled.
“I think people ought to be concerned about some of these products,” said one spinner. “There seems to be a lack of control and standards that can create significant public risk.”
“People are beginning to think about [the lack of standards], but the Chinese government seems to shrug it off,” said another spinner. “I remember sitting at a trade meeting with a delegation of very senior representatives from the Chinese textile industry before the safeguards issue came up. I told them I didn’t think our government would allow products to be imported without safeguards. They didn’t believe it and got up and stomped out of the meeting. And now, they still don’t believe there will be a backlash at some point. People are looking at dyed children’s clothes and such and beginning to wonder what the heck could be there.”
The long-term result, these spinners say, will be increased consumer scrutiny and pressure from retailers to properly document all stages of product manufacturing. “People will want to know what chemicals are in the products we make,” said one dyer. “And they will want some degree of assurance that controls are in place to ensure products are safe.”
“I think manufacturing visibility is a bigger issue in Europe right now than in the United States,” said a sourcing agent for a Southeastern retailer. “But I think it is something that is going to affect most manufacturers at some point. Right now, it is the retailers who are in the driver’s seat. They are looking at the concerns of the consumer and beginning to demand across-the-board accountability from their suppliers. They want to know that you have, or are developing, processes that can trace products back to their humblest origins and identify everything that happens to the product along the way. In the case of a cotton textile product,
it starts with the cotton farmer and the chemicals used in growing the cotton. Then, it goes to how the cotton is stored, transported and processed. At the manufacturing stage, it is a question of chemical additives, product attributes and manufacturing quality.”
How far will manufacturers have to go to make sure the products they deliver have visibility built in to their processes?
“The consumer will ultimately get what he or she wants,” said one spinner. “I think we’ve got some time before this issue hits the textile industry full force. Right now, people are more concerned that the food they eat is safe. But at some point, the textile industry is going to have to deal with it.” September/October 2007
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