QCA Frequently Asked Questions
- About QCA
- Applying for QCA Accreditation
- QCA Compliance
- Marketing the QCA Accreditation
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What is the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA)?
Quality Certification Alliance is an independent, not-for-profit, accreditation organization whose mission is to elevate the standards by which organizations in the promotional products industry import, manufacture and distribute promotional products.
QCA provides industry organizations with the tools to consistently provide safe, high-quality, socially compliant and environmentally conscientious merchandise that enhances brand safety for users of promotional products.
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 is far more encompassing than product testing alone. It evaluates five distinct areas:
- product safety
- product quality
- supply chain security
- social accountability and environmental stewardship
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 is 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.
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 supplier 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.
Why would an industry be satisfied with self-regulation?
The very essence of a standards organization is to make life easier, safer and improve overall efficiency. Industry-based standards organizations have long existed. Some standards provide compatibility for improving the utility of a product, while others establish management practices that positively affect consumer safety, port security and environmental issues. Whether product or process, industry standards are simply best practices.
Best practices are, by their nature, voluntary. When an industry best practice gains momentum, frequently the government or the market will adopt those best practices as standards. Examples of industry-based standards that have gained acceptance in law and the market include:
- ASTM F-963 Originally defined by the Toy Industry of America, this standard is now embodied in U.S. law as a component of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
- FLA Labor Standards An outgrowth from a White House-sponsored initiative, the Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP) is a roundtable comprised of a handful of large apparel labels, non-governmental organizations and college students addressing concerns for labor rights in a manufacturing setting. QCA benchmarked its social accountability standards and audit processes with FLA in 2015.
Why is QCA a 501(c)6 entity?
QCA is categorized by the IRS as a 501(c)(6) organization. Our product is education and information. QCA is subject to the private inurement doctrine, which means no benefit may accrue to any individual participants, nor may unequal standards of participation be applied. (QCA is legally obligated to use the same measuring stick regardless of company size, name or location.) Lastly, funding for QCA is based on dues and fees for service. Note: QCA does NOT certify product or set standards.
An example of a similar board structure would be PhRMA. The PhRMA Code pertains to the design, development and introduction of new drugs to the marketplace and the obligation to educate stakeholders on the role new medicines play in patient care. Consistent with this, a Code revision in 2008 limited promotional items to only those with educational value. QCA’s board, like PhRMA’s, represents the industry’s leading companies which are devoted to advancing the industry and protecting end-users of products.
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), or the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC), are incorporated in the United States, its territories, or Canada 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 participation. The Corporation's Board may adopt additional qualifications for participation from time to time. For application information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are there company size or sales volume minimum requirements?
Any promotional products supplier is eligible to apply.
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 programs plus an additional module on regulatory compliance specific to their product categories.
Third-Party Validation Audits
- Applicants successfully completing the self-assessment are authorized to schedule validation audits with one of QCA’s two authorized third-party audit providers.
- Audit Scope
- All Applicants are required to demonstrate strength in all five areas of compliance – Product Safety, Quality, Social Accountability, Supply Chain Security and Environmental Stewardship.
- Audit Location(s)
- Applicant’s North American headquarters
- Applicant’s supply base
- Internal supply chain
- External third party manufacturers
- Minimum scores
- A minimum score of 91 in all areas of compliance is required for headquarters.
- A minimum score of 81 is required in the supply base.
- Audit Scope
Only those Applicant Suppliers who successfully complete both the self-assessment and third-party audits are eligible to attain QCA Accreditation of their compliance processes.
Does QCA require renewal of an Accreditation?
The QCA Accreditation is for a two-year period of time and requires re-accreditation at the end of that period. Re-accreditation includes a review of the gap analysis for updates and revisions, a set of mock recall exercises, followed by third-party audits of the Accredited Supplier’s headquarters and supply base.
What is the cost?
QCA Accreditation is priced on a five-tier fee schedule that’s calculated according to annual company revenue. For complete details, please email QCA at email@example.com.
What is the scope of QCA Accreditation?
- Product Safety
- Social Accountability
- Supply Chain Security
- Environmental Stewardship
For details about each of these areas, click here.
What is the difference between ISO, WRAP and FLA certifications and QCA Accreditation?
International Standards Organization (ISO)
- Maintains working committees focused on a broad range of standards (i.e. quality management systems, environmental management systems, competencies for labs and auditors, standards for security seals, etc.)
- Consensus standards regularly updated.
- Certification requires renewal by an ISO-authorized organization
- QCA accepts validated current certification for ISO-9001:2015 in lieu of audit for the product safety and quality components of the QCA Compliance Accreditation Program.
World Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP)
- Factory-level certification focused exclusively on social responsibility.
- International Labor Organization-based model for assessing ethical manufacturing practices.
- Alternative WRAP schemes include an annual certification, a bi-annual certification (Gold) and a tri-annual certification (Platinum). Gold and Platinum certifications incorporate self-assessment.
- QCA accepts current validated WRAP Gold certifications in lieu of the social accountability component of the QCA Compliance Accreditation Program.
Fair Labor Association (FLA)
- The FLA is a membership organization with a social accountability compliance assessment program.
- Membership requirements vary:
- Participating Companies have established compliance programs that adhere to FLA principles and publish audits performed under the auspices of FLA.
- Participating Suppliers have established compliance programs that adhere to FLA principles and publish audits performed under the auspices of FLA.
- Collegiate Licensees
- Category B members have established compliance programs and commit to audit their supply base.
- Category C members have self-certified established compliance programs adhering to FLA principles
- Category D members sign the FLA Code of Conduct
- FLA employs audit assessment tools reflecting the International Labor Organization’s standards for ethical manufacturing practices.
- QCA does NOT accept FLA accreditation at this time.
Quality Certification Alliance (QCA)
- The Quality Certification Alliance (QCA) is a participation organization based on demonstrated compliance with QCA Pillars of Compliance.
- The QCA Compliance Accreditation Program is a comprehensive program, which covers:
- product safety
- product quality
- supply chain security
- social accountability and
- environmental stewardship
- QCA employs a continuous model of gap analysis review, validation and ongoing random monitoring for participant accreditation.
- QCA employs an annual review of the program supplemented by benchmarking with other established programs known for their rigor.
- Bi-annual renewal is required.
For details on the QCA Compliance Accreditation Program auditing standards, click here.
Do Accredited Companies have the same manufacturing compliance programs?
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?
All members must demonstrate compliance with all 5 Pillars of Compliance.
In lieu of audit to a specific QCA Pillar, QCA accept validated 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 (bi-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?
Factories are not accredited. Only Applicant or Accredited Supplier companies 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 accredited or certified under this program, they are audited as an indicator of the effectiveness of the Applicant / Accredited Company’s Compliance Program.
Does QCA audit every factory?
The QCA audits are designed to evaluate the continued strength of a Supplier’s manufacturing policies and processes related to achieving 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.
How often are Accredited Suppliers audited?
The QCA Accreditation is for a two-year period. Accredited suppliers have an annual audit obligation.
Year 1 Audits
- Applicant / Accredited Supplier’s North American headquarters
- Applicant / Accredited Supplier’s wholly-owned buying offices and auxiliary warehouses.
- Supplier self-selects factories for audit from their current supply base.
Year 2 Audits
- Accredited Supplier submits a current list of supply base factories by product category and volume.
- Factories for audit randomly selected by QCA.
- Factories selected for audit in Year 1 are ineligible.
Are products certified?
QCA does NOT certify products.
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.
Can any industry guarantee their products are 100% safe and compliant?
The Compliance Accreditation Program takes an Applicant step by step through their product and processes for assuring compliant product, addressing gaps with best practices. Accredited suppliers have those processes in place and are regularly required to demonstrate the effectiveness of those processes in third-party audits of their headquarters and their supply base.
No industry nor company can claim their products are free from risk.
Do Accredited Suppliers have product specifications?
Yes, all Accredited Suppliers are required to have specifications.
Specifications serve a number of purposes in manufacturing. For the purposes of compliance, specifications:
- Allow a manufacturer or importer to determine whether the product complies with the regulatory standards that may apply to the product in the markets where the item is intended to be distributed.
- Allow a manufacturer or importer to evaluate, given the intended function and other performance requirements, whether there are foreseeable implications for either product safety or quality.
Do Accredited Suppliers conduct risk assessments?
Yes, all QCA Accredited Suppliers are required to have a product approval process in place that includes a risk assessment.
Risk assessments are fundamental to determining whether or not a product meets an Accredited Supplier’s requirements which range from meeting the requirements for the market in which those products are to be distributed to the expectations of their customer to their own internal standards.
Do Accredited Suppliers have a testing program?
Yes, all QCA Accredited Suppliers have a testing program.
Are all testing programs the same?
QCA Accredited Suppliers produce distinct product lines and, therefore, adopt testing standards that meet their unique business needs.
All QCA Accredited Suppliers are required to have a testing program. QCA does not dictate a standard set of testing requirements. the company has determined are important to addressing their unique product and needs. Suitability of the adopted testing program to the Accredited Supplier is validated in third-party audits and through random selection of products for mock recall.
State and federal compliance requirements change so rapidly. How can I keep up?
Best Practice: Monitor for changes and update your processes for regulatory changes as you perform a risk assessment.
Is testing required for all products tested?
Not all products are subject to regulatory standards that mandate testing.
QCA Accredited Suppliers maintain testing plans driven by product type, intended market, individual customer’s requirements and any other needs that may arise from “manufacturing change,” a term defined as a change in manufacturer, manufacturing process, design or raw materials.
How long are testing results considered “fresh”?
Generally, best practice suggests that third-party testing results for a product during the period in which it was under manufacture (without manufacturing change) can be considered valid up to two years. Should regulatory limitations be changed during this period, in all cases, new testing would be expected to reflect the new limitations.
Per standards published by the CPSC:
“Periodic testing applies to continuing production of a children’s product. If a children’s product initially is certified, and then additional production continues, effective February 8, 2013, periodic testing is required for all the applicable children’s product safety rules, even if there are no material changes. Periodic testing is in addition to material change testing. Periodic testing must be conducted often enough to assure ongoing compliance with the applicable safety rules and no less than 1-, 2-, or 3-year intervals, depending on whether the manufacturer has a periodic testing plan, a production testing plan, or conducts continued testing using an accredited ISO/IEC 17025:2005 laboratory…”
For additional details, click here.
Does existing inventory need to be retested?
Unless there is reason to believe the product has been exposed in some manner to a contaminant that degraded the integrity of the product, third-party testing performed on the product during the period of manufacture should be considered valid.
Do QCA Accredited Suppliers perform mock recalls? What elements are tested in a mock recall?
Yes. QCA Accredited Suppliers perform mock recalls.
Mock recalls comprehensively test a QCA Accredited Supplier’s compliance processes and are a required element of all accreditations and re-accreditations.
QCA Accredited Suppliers are presented with products randomly selected from their online catalogs and provided with a scenario under which the item is claimed to have failed.
The QCA Accredited Supplier provides documentation regarding the design and development of the product, as well as the risk assessment used in the approval of the product. Any applicable testing and inspection records are also submitted for evaluation. Purchase orders for the placement of the product and sales to customers are also reviewed to determine the potential scope of a recall. Lastly, a corrective action plan may be drafted if shortcomings are identified in the exercise.
The mock recall exercise thoroughly tests an Accredited Supplier’s compliance processes and prepares them for the third-party audits that follow the completion of the exercise.
For what length of time does QCA extend accreditation to a Supplier?
QCA Accreditation is for a 24-month period. Midway through the Accreditation, the Accredited Supplier is required to conduct randomly selected audits of their manufacturers. All subsequent re-accreditations are based on the initial accreditation.
Marketing the QCA Accreditation
What is a QCA Accredited Supplier?
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 Accredited Seal of Approval as well as QCA accreditation specific 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?
Third-party accreditations mitigate risks. 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.
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.
Companies with QCA Accreditation have a proactive comprehensive compliance program in place that mitigates risks by providing for end-buyer brand safety through verified responsible sourcing and manufacturing best practices.
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 of 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 Advocacy Council
What is the QCA Advocacy Council?
The QCA Advocacy Council is comprised of promotional products distributors that value product safety and compliance and outwardly support the mission of QCA. For more details about the Advocacy Council, click here.
How did the QCA 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 a strong 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. In January of 2019, the Council dropped the word "Distributor" to become the Advocacy Council.
Why was the QCA 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 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 protects clients and elevates the professionalism of the promotional products industry.
What is the future of compliance and brand safety through responsible sourcing?
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.