Industry Structure

QCA is the only independent, third-party, non-governmental validation of brand safety and responsible sourcing best practices for the promotional products industry.

Why Brand Safety 

When viewed holistically, brand safety is about much more than content placement. It encompasses every aspect of a brand’s image. In reality, brand reputation is exposed anywhere a company logo, name, tagline and so forth are located. Whether or not the results of exposure are positive or negative is dependent upon the awareness of risks associated with each medium and the actions taken to mitigate the associated risk. Focusing on digital media alone is short-sided and dangerous.

Accreditation and Certification are necessary components of business operations today; it’s simply the “new normal.” More and more, organizations are only interested in vendors who understand the importance of safety and compliance and who insist on it as it relates to every component of the manufacturing and import process. Moreover, the public is demanding more accountability and greater positive impacts on society from the businesses they support.

With regard to branded merchandise (promotional products), the products are not the problem. Rather, the manner in which they are sourced is what poses the greatest risk. To understand the magnitude of risk one must first understand the industry supply chain.

  • Branded merchandise is $24+ billion industry that has experienced more than eight-years of consecutive growth.
  • There are 30,000+ distributors, ranging in size from large corporations down to entrepreneurs working out of their homes, in the industry.
  • Distributors traditionally purchase promotional products from industry suppliers (3,500+ companies) for resale to end-buyers (brands/organizations/individuals/other entities).
  • Occasionally distributors will source directly from manufacturers outside of the industry as well as direct from China.
  • 15,000+ distributors and suppliers are members of the industry trade association
  • 42% of the market share is among distributors with less than $2.5M in annual sales volume
  • 1,700+ companies completed the industry’s basic responsible sourcing awareness program (mostly suppliers as a requirement for participation at industry-sponsored events)

Sourced from the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) website, 2017 Sales Volume Study Report and other available data.

  • Less than 50 supplier companies have achieved QCA Accreditation, the industry’s highest brand safety and sourcing designation and the only industry verification and accountability for responsible sourcing best practices.
  • Less than 30 have maintained their Accreditation.


An industry study conducted by the Advertising Specialty Institute found that, in 2018, over one-third of promotional products suppliers did not spend any money on product safety. Looking ahead, the vast majority of industry suppliers do not plan to boost product safety spending in 2019, according to this same study.

By the numbers

  • 30% spent $0
  • 17% spent $1,000 dollars or less
  • 25% spent $1,000 to $5,000
  • 14% spent $5,000 – $25,000
  • and 14% spent $25,000 +


The Problem is two-fold

  1. In the past, there was an absence of a standard for compliance and product safety within the branded merchandise industry.
  2. There is a potential risk that product safety issues and recalls from foreign manufacturers can damage not only end-buyer/consumer brands but also the reputation of the branded merchandise industry as a whole.

This problem is exacerbated by many advertisers not being fully aware of the associated benefits and risks posed by branded merchandise. When considering branded merchandise, the average advertisers tend to focus on price, “cool factor” and quantity—typically in that order. However, when used correctly, branded merchandise is an essential component of the marketing mix—not an add-on or afterthought and not a commodity where all factors are equal.

The Solution

People like to get stuff, and people keep stuff. Thus, recipients of branded merchandise are exposed to your messaging, chemicals contained in the makeup of the product and the overall usefulness of the product. Responsibly sourced branded merchandise mitigates risk to brands and engages the target audience in ways that other advertising mediums simply cannot.

While there are several organizations serving the branded merchandise industry, none of them specialize in developing compliance programs. Additionally, the wide range of business models and the desire to find a one-size-fits-all solution tended to steer the industry toward the lowest common denominator as opposed to a standard that Fortune 1000 companies find acceptable.


Purposeful branding is now at the center of how businesses operate. Ethics and sustainability are not one-and-done efforts. Purposeful organizations invest year-round in being good corporate citizens and expect their business partners to do the same.

B-Corps, ISO, WRAP, Blue Sign, SAC, FLA, SEDEX and more share similar values while existing to hold businesses accountable through validation of compliance and positive impacts on society. QCA supports internal business efforts and the efforts of these organization with a focus on the branded merchandise industry.

The promotional products industry is unique in that no other industry changes products and the intent of products as often and as rapidly. Moreover, no other industry is responsible for carrying the names, reputations and logos of brands on products that the users are not responsible for manufacturing.


The QCA Compliance Accreditation Program 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 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 and Certification 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. For details on the QCA Program, click here.

See the complete participation requirements here.

Accreditation is only open to a promotional products company that is registered as a “Supplier” with the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) or the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC) and is incorporated in North America.

Certification is only open to a promotional products company that is registered as a “Distributor” or “Decorator” with the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) or the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC) and is incorporated in North America.