About QCA

QCA Compliance

Promoting the QCA Accreditation

Applying for QCA Accreditation

About QCA

What is Quality Certification Alliance (QCA)?
Quality Certification Alliance is a Chicago, Illinois-based 501(c)6 not-for-profit, independent, accreditation organization whose mission is to elevate the standards by which suppliers in the promotional products industry import and/or manufacture promotional products. QCA provides industry suppliers with the tools to consistently provide safe, high-quality, socially compliant and environmentally conscientious merchandise that enhances brand safety for users of promotional products. Daily operations are manged by Tim Brown, MAS, executive director – operations and D E (Denise) Fenton executive director – compliance. To learn more about their responsibilities and qualifications, click here.
What prompted formation of an independent accreditation group?
While there are several organizations serving the promotional products industry, none of them specialize in developing robust compliance programs. Additionally, the wide range of business models and the desire to find a one-size-fits-all solution tends to steer the industry toward the lowest common denominator as opposed to a standard that Fortune 1000 will find acceptable. As an independent, not-for-profit organization, QCA can focus exclusively on creating the most comprehensive compliance program with a robust support system without the distraction of addressing other industry needs.
What is QCA Accreditation?
QCA Accreditation is a process of comprehensive validation that confirms a promotional products supplier has processes in place intended to detect and deter any non-compliant product from entering the marketplace. The QCA Accreditation Process harmonizes the ever-increasing array of compliance tools, identifies the most rigorous standards, measures these standards, and continuously revises and updates the measures and methodology to reflect evolving concerns.

QCA Accreditation is granted to companies who complete an independent third-party audit and comply with stringent standards, which are based upon a combination of state and national laws, international standards and industry-accepted best practices that are recognized for their strength and effectiveness by QCA Accredited companies, the promotional products industry and end-user clients.

For details on the QCA Accreditation Program, click here.

QCA Compliance

What is the scope of QCA Accreditation?
The QCA Accreditation Program addresses compliance in five key areas: product safety, product quality, supply chain security, social accountability and environmental stewardship.For details about each of these areas, click here.
What is the difference between ISO, WRAP and FLA certifications and QCA Accreditation?
The International Standards Organization (ISO) provides standards for everything from quality monitoring systems and environmental practices to container seals and auditor training. The ISO then licenses companies and individuals to teach these processes through consultation.

World Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) is a factory level certification that was initially focused exclusively on social responsibility, but the program has been expanded to include sustainable manufacture. QCA accepts WRAP certification in lieu of the social accountability component of the QCA Accreditation Program because WRAP includes a focus on capacity building.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) tends to be more prevalent in the collegiate licensing market space, and this certification is exclusively limited to social responsibility. At this time, QCA does not accept FLA accreditation.

While these certification programs are valid, they are designed to address a specific need. QCA Accreditation is a comprehensive program. A continuous model of gap analysis review, validation and ongoing monitoring that covers product safety, product quality, supply chain security, social accountability and environmental stewardship—all the areas in which end-buyers and end-users expect compliance and safety.

For details on the QCA Accreditation Program auditing standards, click here.

Do Accredited Companies have the same manufacturing compliance programs?
No. QCA Accredited Suppliers vary in size, product mix and structure. Company processes, while they achieve the same relative outcome, will vary accordingly. The standards as noted above do not shift, rather the manner in which one Supplier meets compliance standards may vary from the manner in which another Supplier meets the same standard.
Can an applicant opt out of any one of the areas included in the QCA Compliance Accreditation Program?
No. But QCA accepts current certifications from Suppliers for individual facilities that reflect the same rigorous process we require Applicants to complete. Examples of this include: ISO9001:2008 (3 year certificate), WRAP GOLD (annual certificate), and ICTI CARE (annual certificate).

Suppliers who are certified by US Customs at C-TPAT Tier I, or higher, are eligible to waive the requirements of Supply Chain Security for their entire supply chain. 

Are factories accredited?
No. Factories are not accredited. Only “Industry Suppliers” may be accredited. The QCA Compliance Accreditation Program evaluates a company’s policies, procedures and protocols for their effectiveness in detecting and deterring non-compliance throughout the manufacturing process.

While factories are not certified under this program, they are audited as an indicator of the effectiveness of the Applicant / Accredited Company’s Compliance Program. 

Do Suppliers audit every factory?
No. QCA is auditing to determine continued strength of a Supplier’s processes related to manufacturing compliance. Part of the QCA audit includes evaluation of a Supplier’s vetting process, thus, a statistical sample of factories is audited, which is consistent with other certification programs such as C-TPAT. 
Are Accredited Suppliers audited every year?
Yes. The QCA Accreditation is a two-year accreditation. During the first year the Applicant Supplier and, if applicable its wholly-owned buying offices and auxiliary warehouses may also be audited. Suppliers then select factories for bi-annual validation of the company’s manufacturing compliance processes.

In the second year of the QCA Accreditation Program, the Accredited Supplier is required to submit a list of the top factories by volume from which the Accredited Supplier purchases products. From that list, factories are randomly selected by QCA for audits validating the continued effectiveness of the company’s processes. Factories may not be the same as those audited during the first year of the QCA Accreditation Program. 

Are products certified?
No. QCA does not certify products.

The QCA Compliance Accreditation Program monitors and evaluates a company’s policies, procedures and protocols for their effectiveness in detecting and deterring non-compliance in the manufacturing process.

Individual products are not certified under this program, although the policies, procedures and protocols for assuring continued conformity are evaluated over the course of the self-assessment and third party audit. 

Are all the products from QCA Accredited Suppliers guaranteed to be 100% safe and compliant?
No company can make such a claim—especially at the low price points prevalent in the promotional products industry. For another example, just look at the prescription drug industry. These companies spend millions of dollars to ensure safety, and yet they still have product issues.

What is certain, however, is that compliance not a destination, it is a journey—one that our industry should be embracing. But the reality is that many promotional products companies are avoiding compliance, oftentimes due to misconceptions about costs and/or the severity of the ramifications of noncompliance.

QCA Applicants and Accredited Suppliers have invested resources and years of effort into their compliance programs and are significantly better at compliance than most, if not all, of the industry. The question should not be, “Are QCA Accredited Suppliers perfect?” Rather, the questions should be, “Why aren’t other companies developing these types of compliance programs to protect their customers’ brand, and why they spending time fighting the requirements instead of working to meet them?

I already test my products. Why do I need QCA?
While testing is an element of a compliance program, it is not a complete compliance program. The QCA Accreditation Program evaluates five distinct areas: product safety, product quality, supply chain security, social accountability and environmental stewardship—far more encompassing than product testing alone.

Additionally, independent third-party audits of a company’s headquarters and supply chain are also required as a part of QCA Accreditation. The result is a comprehensive compliance program that based upon a combination of state and national laws, international standards and industry-accepted best practices that are recognized for their strength and effectiveness by QCA Accredited companies, the promotional products industry and end-user clients.

For more information about the QCA Accreditation Program, click here.

State and federal compliance requirements change so rapidly. How can I keep up?
This certainly can be a daunting task, especially in light of the state level compliance legislation and the inconsistencies in the approach. In the absence of participating in a program such as QCA, we would recommend contracting with a compliance expert who’s full-time role is to monitor and update your process for any changes.
Do QCA Accredited Suppliers perform mock recalls?
Yes. Annual mock recalls are required to maintain Accredited status.
Does QCA require Accredited Suppliers to renew their accreditation?
Yes. The QCA Accreditation is a two-year accreditation.

Promoting the QCA Accreditation

Accredited Suppliers

What is a QCA Accredited Supplier?
A QCA Accredited Supplier is a company that has signed an agreement attesting that all merchandise manufactured for promotional purposes under its auspices complies with the QCA’s Standards for Compliance, has provided self-assessments of its own facilities to the QCA Accreditation Program administration and maintains self-assessments of the facilities in which its work is contracted. Additionally, this company actively engages in developing and implementing corrective actions to continuously ensure all facilities are upholding compliance standards; and, most importantly, engages third-party auditors to validate self-assessments.A QCA Accredited Supplier has successfully completed the QCA Accreditation Process, which includes third-party audits of its headquarters offices as well as multiple supply chain audits. QCA Accreditation lasts for two years and includes multiple random off-year audits to ensure the QCA Accredited Supplier continues not only to manage and improve its internal processes but also to effectively detect and deter unsafe or non-compliant product before it enters the supply chain. Only QCA Accredited Suppliers in good standing may use the QCA Seal of Approval as well as QCA marketing materials.
How can products from QCA Accredited Suppliers be found?
Product search engines from Distributor Central, SAGE – Quick Technologies and ZOOMcatalog each contain a search parameter that includes QCA Accredited Suppliers. Select this option as one of the search criteria for products from those companies to appear.
Why is QCA Accreditation important?
Providing safe and compliant promotional products is an essential component of doing business in today’s hyper-competitive environment. Fortune 1000 clients expect safe and compliant product, made in an ethical manner; and smaller businesses are also beginning to require the same assurances.

QCA Accreditation increases buying confidence because it protects brand equity throughout the supply chain, from the promotional products supplier, through the distributor, to the end-buyer and ultimately to the final end-user.

Companies with QCA Accreditation have a proactive comprehensive compliance program in place that protects the brand equity of the end user clients by addressing not only product safety and quality but also compliance with legislative, social and environmental requirements.

Additionally, these standards also protect the reputation of the promotional products industry. When one company has an issue, it reflects poorly on the industry as a whole. QCA Accreditation eliminates the unnecessary risks of non-compliance and also establishes protocols in the event a recall is required.

For more details on the QCA Accreditation Program, click here.

What are the benefits QCA Accreditation?
QCA Accreditation brings a number of benefits that improve product lines, enhance organizational credibility, and directly impact both top-and-bottom-line results. Industry leadership, product differentiation, cost savings for compliance program development and execution, cost savings on continued compliance education and a variety of additional cost reductions are just a few of the many benefits. For more details, click here.
Each of my customers has different expectations and formats for compliance that they require, and these differences are expensive and time consuming to meet. Can QCA Accreditation help me with this issue?
Yes, over time. QCA exists to be the promotional products industry standard for product safety and compliance. The QCA Accreditation Program was built specifically to stand up to scrutiny from the most demanding client audiences, and of yet, no alternative offerings have come out of our industry.

We can work directly with your clients to demonstrate the rigor and comprehensiveness of QCA Accreditation. While progress has been made on a client-by-client basis, having QCA Accreditation recognized as the industry standard on such a complicated topic will take much education and an element of time.

A number of the factories I use have been audited and approved for use by large retailers. Why do I need QCA?
Audits are a snapshot in time. They can be a reflection of how that factory routinely functions, or they can be a reflection of factory management’s ability to successfully navigate the auditing process and appear compliant. The only way to effectively manage this is by having checks and balances designed to catch non-compliance integrated into your sourcing and production processes. The QCA Accreditation Program includes a series of third-party audits for initial QCA Accreditation coupled with an ongoing annual set of audits over the life of a company’s accreditation with QCA.

QCA Distributor Advocacy Council (DAC)

What is the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council?
The QCA Distributor Advocacy Council (DAC) is comprised of promotional products distributors that value product safety and compliance and outwardly support the mission of QCA. For more details about the Distributor Advocacy Council, click here.
How did the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council begin?
While QCA was formed to create a comprehensive compliance program for suppliers as the manufacturers or importers of record for promotional products, distributors have also expressed the desire to take a proactive stance on responsible sourcing and compliance expectations from the manufacturers in their supply chains. To meet the needs of these distributors and help them meet the end-buyer mandate to deliver safe and compliant promotional products, QCA formed the Distributor Advocacy Group in July 2010.

In April 2011, a small subset of Distributor Advocacy Group was elevated to become the Distributor Advocacy Council and work more closely with the QCA Board of Directors. This Council is comprised of the distributors who have the strongest commitment to compliance and have chosen QCA Accreditation as a key criterion for selecting their preferred supplier programs when making sourcing decisions.

In May 2012, the Council became even more formalized with the creation of the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council Charter.

Why was the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council created?
The QCA Distributor Charter was established to allow distributors the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to delivering safe and compliant promotional products to their Fortune 1000 customers. The Charter contains five specific and measurable commitments that must be met for Council participants to be in good standing. If the commitments are not met, then participation in the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council will be revoked.
Why should distributors care about product safety and compliance? Aren’t these supplier issues?
While suppliers bear the majority of the responsibility, distributors play a role in three ways:

1. Compliance is the law.

Federal and state governments are taking product safety very seriously, and they are passing regulations to keep citizens safe from merchandise that is deemed hazardous. While there is much focus on safe products, social policies and environmental regulations also play a significant role in compliance. And since distributors are part of the supply chain, they can be held legally liable along with suppliers.

2. End-buyers expect compliance and brand equity protection.

The threat of recall and fines compliance violations is real, and end-buyers cannot take any chances of using merchandise that can harm recipients and tarnish their brands. To avoid any mishaps, Fortune 1000 customers have become more proficient at vetting their promotional products supply chains—which includes distributors as well as suppliers. End-buyers expect compliance with legislative, social and environmental requirements as a part of doing business today, so distributors must be educated and up-to-date on the latest compliance issues and regulations.

3. Compliance is smart business.

Because of the demands from buyers, distributors are rewarding suppliers that can demonstrate they are compliant. Supplier companies of all sizes are responding to the challenges and opportunities that come as part of the product safety and compliance movement by growing their client solutions. Not having a proactive, comprehensive compliance program has now become a competitive disadvantage for those companies who fail to address these expectations in a verifiable way for their corporate clients.

Why is a collaborative approach important to both suppliers and distributors?
It is clear that better compliance solutions are developed in partnership rather than in silos. Through QCA, suppliers and distributors are experiencing a new level of collaboration where they can sell the value proposition of safe and complaint promotional products. This collaboration better meets client needs for brand safety, which results in enhanced relationships, greater confidence, growing trust and reliance, and ultimately in increased revenues. This approach not only protects clients, but it also protects and elevates the professionalism of the promotional products industry.
What is the future of compliance?
Compliance programs are not a black-or-white, pass-or-fail, all-or-nothing exercise. Nor is compliance a destination. Rather it is an ever-evolving journey — one that grows in complexity as the regulatory environment unfolds. Success comes to companies that work together, collaborating on how to best continually serve the needs of clients within the parameters of the law.

Applying for QCA Accreditation

Who can apply for QCA Accreditation?
Promotional products companies that are registered as a “Supplier” with the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) are eligible to apply for the QCA Accreditation Program. A “Supplier” per the definition provided by the PPAI means a promotional products company that manufactures, imports, converts, imprints or otherwise produces or processes promotional products offered for sale through promotional consultants. These requirements may be verified by an audit of production and purchase records prior to acceptance of application for membership. The Corporation’s Board may adopt additional qualifications for membership from time to time. For application information, email TBrown@qcalliance.org or DFenton@qcalliance.org.
Are there company size or sales volume minimum requirements?
No. Companies of any size and any product category can successfully complete the QCA Accreditation Process. Accredited companies with sales ranging from less than $5 million to more than $400 million dollars in revenue have been part of the QCA Accreditation Program. In fact, smaller companies may actually benefit more as they do not have the resources to develop comprehensive compliance programs on their own.
How does a QCA Applicant become accredited?
All Applicants must complete the QCA Self-Assessment as an intensive first step. Audits will not be authorized until the successful completion of this process.

The Self-Assessment is a gap analysis of an Applicant Supplier’s manufacturing compliance program plus an additional module on regulatory compliance specific to their product categories. A rigorous process, the Self-Assessment forces Applicants to fully define and document all aspects of their compliance programs that will be evaluated in the audit phase. This self- assessment is reviewed by QCA, and any gaps or deficiencies in an applicant’s processes must be addressed before the applicant can proceed to the auditing phase.

Frequently, teams from the Applicant Supplier will work together on developing full policies and procedures that comprehensively address the company’s compliance risks and compliance program. Size, relative development and, frankly, enthusiasm can determine the length of time an Applicant might require in order to complete the self-assessment. Key for most Applicants in successful completion of the Self-Assessment is an internal project manager who continues to drive the process forward.

Applicants successfully completing the self-assessment then move to the audit phase, where audits are conducted by one of QCA’s authorized Third-Party audit providers. Those audits test all five areas of compliance – Product Safety, Quality, Social Accountability, Supply Chain Security and Environmental Stewardship. Third-party audits are conducted, first, at the Applicant’s headquarters, then in the Applicant’s supply base (both internal supply chain and external third-party manufacturers who sell products to the Applicant). Audits identifying issues that result in a score below 91 for headquarters and 81 in the supply base require corrective action followed by an audit demonstrating that effective processes have been put in place to address the deficiencies noted in the audit.

Only those Applicant Suppliers who successfully complete both the self-assessment and third-party audits will attain QCA Accreditation of their compliance processes. 

Does QCA provide one-on-one consulting services?
As a 501(c)6 not-for-profit organization, QCA is limited in scope to what kind of individual consulting can be done. To help companies build compliance programs that meet QCA Accreditation Standards, for example, QCA executive directors have resources and can make referrals based on specific company needs. Email DFenton@qcalliance.org for details.