A version of this post was originally published by Promo Marketing on April 6, 2012.
I was chatting with a leading industry distributor recently, and he expressed frustration when it comes to the issue of compliance. He regularly has to field compliance inquiries from his customers, and the wide range of responses he gets from suppliers leaves him feeling discouraged. And he’s certainly not alone. Based on the conversations I’ve had with other distributors, there is little understanding regarding the complexities of compliance.
To assess if he is on the right track, this distributor asked me, “When do know that you have enough compliance?” It’s a valid question, and one that has an easy answer: When your response is more than enough to meet the expectations of your clients, then you’ve achieved the right amount of compliance.
End-buyer clients are driving the compliance train. But some issues of compliance are more important than others depending on the client’s needs and personal preferences. You’ll see this manifested in the various types of compliance information that clients request. The only way to be able to field these requests effectively and efficiently is to have a proactive, comprehensive compliance program that addresses ALL the issues.
For many distributors, compliance has yet to become a big deal to their clients. If your clients do not care, you probably don’t care either. But that’s not to say that compliance shouldn’t be important to you. It absolutely should. More and more companies are finding out first hand that having a comprehensive compliance program is making a difference in their relationships and businesses, especially when it comes to their Fortune 1000 clients.
But here’s the problem: Many suppliers feel like they are doing enough. Some have started doing factory audits. While conducting audits is important as a component of a compliance program, audits on their own don’t come close to being a compliance program. See what I mean in a previous post: ‘Picture Day:’ Why Factory Audits Aren’t Enough.
Other suppliers have starting testing their products. Again, testing is important as a component of a compliance program, but testing alone is not sufficient. Check out the post The Golden Sample: Why Testing Alone Isn’t Enough to learn more.
The majority of purchases in our industry are small-quantity, short-lead-time orders. If compliance is not included in your offering before the order is placed, it will be very difficult and cost prohibitive to manage it into a $500 order than ships in three days.
At best, it might be possible to have blank product tested before it is shipped, hoping that the inks used did not contain any lead or cadmium. But how would you know if you didn’t test them? The ink companies have stated that they do not manufacture a children’s product and at best have offered outdated testing. They too, feel that they are doing enough.
In this instance, your Fortune 1000 clients will receive a product that may or may not meet product safety requirements. Only one component of a compliance program was covered. You still have not addressed social compliance, product quality, environmental stewardship and supply chain security. It’s not enough for Fortune 1000 customers.
Here’s another example. More and more apparel suppliers have begun relying on WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) or FLA (Fair Labor Association) certifications, with some even making them a requirement for the factories with whom they work. WRAP and FLA certifications are factory-level accreditation programs that focus almost exclusively on social accountability. While it is a great step in the right direction for factories to be audited on social accountability, this type of factory certification does not pass through to you. And even if it did, only one component of a compliance program is covered. Again, product safety, product quality, environmental stewardship and supply chain security have not been addressed—and that’s not enough for Fortune 1000 customers.
As you can see, the reality is that very few suppliers are actually doing enough. Factory audits alone are not enough. Testing alone is not enough. Social accountability certifications alone are not enough. If you are doing business with companies that think any one of these is enough to be compliant, they are wrong—and you and your customers are at risk.
So, how much compliance is enough? Only your customers can dictate the answer to this question. Understand that you’ll receive a variety of compliance requests from your customers, and be prepared to meet these requests be having not only a proactive compliance program but also a comprehensive compliance program that covers product safety, product quality, social accountability, environmental stewardship and supply chain security in place. Only then, will you truly be compliant enough.
Brent Stone is executive director – operations for Quality Certification Alliance (QCA), the promotional products industry’s only independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping companies provide safe products. A Six Sigma Black Belt, Stone has more than 25 years of in-depth supply chain management experience with extensive expertise in process design, development, improvement and management. He can be reached at email@example.com or visit www.qcalliance.org for more information.