Product Safety Is China’s Achilles’ Heel
Toxic and otherwise unsafe Chinese exports could derail the country’s economic miracle. Pro or con?
Pro: An International Hazard
We launched a national public-awareness project last year called the Toxic Trade Campaign, involving thousands of union activists who sponsored "Get the Lead Out" testing kits for American families to screen China-made toys for lead paint.
Growing public outrage drove Congress to pass the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act of 2008. It’s a good first step toward holding Chinese manufacturers accountable when they introduce products that risk public health and safety.
China exports of toxic toys, filthy seafood, unsafe steel and tires, poisoned milk and pet food have jolted the Asian nation’s remarkable economic growth. It was built on a strategy of flooding America and the world with cheap, government-subsidized, unfairly traded, and often unregulated exports.
The axiom "Cheap goods carry a high price" rings truer each day as Chinese manufacturers issue recall after recall of low-cost, toxic goods.
As buyers became more wary, demand weakened, and now the world’s financial crisis has hit China. Scores of factories have closed across the Asian country, including half of its toy exporters. The 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs that have been offshored to China since 2001 make for an economics lesson the congressional act alone cannot fix.
The United Steelworkers fight—joined by environmental allies and some industrial employers against failed trade policies—deserves immediate attention.
What was cheap yesterday in U.S. retail box stores now bears the true price of the China economic miracle for us all.
Con: China Has Solutions Under Way
Like the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, China is learning some hard lessons about the responsibilities that come along with a booming industrial economy. Those lessons are being taught by its own people, as well as the responses of its export partners when a product fails to meet acceptable standards.
The good news is that China’s leaders have been working with U.S. officials and companies to improve standards and step up enforcement. The question now is whether China can implement those changes. All the regulations in the world cannot make a difference without proper enforcement.
U.S. consumers and companies have a big stake in the outcome. American consumers obviously want safe products, and U.S. companies want a strong Chinese economy to consume our products. China is now the third-largest customer for American exports—and growing far faster than our other major markets.
We have more allies in China on this issue than opponents. Chinese consumers want safe products, too. Legitimate Chinese producers don’t want to be tainted by the bad actors. China’s government is concerned about the "Made in China" brand.
The Chinese are learning a tough lesson in the marketplace. They have more to do—just as we do here in the U.S.—but we should work with them to ensure the safety of both Chinese and American consumers.