Small workshops blamed for quality flap

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2007, 12:00am

The mainland's small workshops and US protectionism were to blame for a series of damaging problems overseas involving mainland-made products, a senior quality supervision official said.

The standard of goods had been improving steadily and the US Congress' increasing focus on trade protection was the reason the reputation of mainland-made products had been so strongly attacked this year, General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine news office director Li Yingfeng said yesterday.

Mr Li made the remarks following a series of scares this year involving goods such as poisonous pet food, tainted toothpaste and substandard toys.

He conceded that some products had quality problems, saying the majority of them were made by small operations. For instance, of the 450,000 food enterprises across the mainland, 78.8 per cent were 'small workshops' that employed fewer than 10 people.

'The major problem lies in small workshops,' Mr Li said. 'Some owners have decayed morals and battered credit. We will intensify the crackdown on them.'

One way to attack the quality problem was for consumers to veto substandard products by not buying them and lodging complaints against them, he said.

However, domestic consumers were often discouraged from taking action against substandard products because only small amounts of compensation were paid in the event of injury, China Consumers' Association vice-secretary-general Wu Gaohan said.

'Our association has received 10 million complaints so far [since its establishment in 1984] and saved more than 7 billion yuan in losses,' Mr Wu said. 'The average compensation in each case is around 700 yuan, too low to cover the cost of a lawsuit. That's why Chinese consumers are reluctant to file lawsuits against producers. The parents of a child who choked to death on a jelly or was blinded by faulty fireworks can receive no more than 100,000 yuan.'

Tsinghua University sociologist Sun Liping said government policies and the legal system did not sufficiently protect consumers, did not ensure a level playing field for companies, and did not guarantee wrongdoings would be punished.

Small operations were competing viciously to survive in many industries including mining, transport and agriculture, he said. Exploiting workers and making substandard or fake products had become common practice in these sectors. Otherwise, the operators would collapse.