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Everyone’s business

Companies should not pass the buck on product safety and compliance. Training can embed it in the business culture, says Daniela Arena.

Raising awareness and education levels on the safety and compliance of products that we use is a growing challenge for our industry and trade association.

Product safety demands are increasing and, buyers are asking and questioning more. We’ve all seen the results of high-profile product recalls when a product turns out to be unsafe. The EE powerbanks scenario last year comes to mind. This well documented story is one every company wants to avoid and it has clearly put the fear factor into the corporate buyers.

Unsafe, uncompliant products place a huge financial burden on a business. It is also a criminal offence to supply unsafe goods. For example, importing electrical items into the EU without complying to the WEEE Directive carries a maximum fine of £50,000 or even a custodial sentence for the producer/importer in the most serious cases.

Are we, as an industry, across the full supply chain really taking product compliance seriously? Apparently not.

Who’s responsible?

In the second phase of bpma-commissioned industry mystery shopper research undertaken by Facts International, an independent market research company in Spring 2016, only 1 of 40 distributor companies made reference to product compliance within a quotation (see report on page 24). Assume there are 2,000 distributors operating in the UK, that’s just 50 companies showing high standards and best practice. 

Why is this? Who is being let down? Is the buyer letting the distributor down by not asking? Is the distributor letting the supplier down by not checking with the supplier? Is the distributor letting the buyer down by not mentioning product compliance or passing on information they may have received from the supplier? Is the supplier letting the distributor down for not informing them of the product safety elements? We all have a responsibility to ensure safe quality products enter the market yet we seem to be operating on an assumption basis.

Never assume

Distributors should not assume the items comply – they should ask the question of the supplier, and make sure it is properly satisfied. In relation to WEEE, the distributor should make sure that the products they are supplying carry the Wheelie Bin mark, properly positioned on the product itself, only in very exceptional cases can the logo be placed elsewhere. 

The RoHS legislation has been in place for many years now, and most reputable manufacturing companies in the Far East will be sourcing components that comply with the RoHS standard – the cost of compliant products is no higher. However, to choose just one example, it is quite common still to find lead based solders being used in factories and these products will not comply with the standard. Proper due diligence measures must be put in place if you are importing into the EU.

Changing focus

If you are a UK based distributor company buying from a UK based supplier, the liability for RoHS and WEEE sits with the supplier.

Increasingly distributors are purchasing electronic items from manufacturers in China directly and in doing so the obligation to put proper systems in place and to comply with RoHS and WEEE sits with the distributor as it is they who are first importing the products and placing them on the market within the EU.

Specifically, in relation to WEEE, if you are purchasing the electronic items from a country outside of the UK, even if this country is within the EU, the UK – based company would be responsible for complying with the WEEE regulations.

To future proof the industry and to raise our game within the marketing mix, product safety is vital. Our suppliers devote enormous resources to ensure that product lines are safe and comply.

While liability may sit with a manufacturer or a supplier, we all have a responsibility to feed this knowledge and information through the supply chain. Distributors are the one link within the chain that can really make a difference and very quickly too. Frontline staff who take the enquiries, churn out quotation after quotation and those processing the orders on a day to day basis need to be aware and knowledgeable on product compliance. Some business owners would argue that they don’t need to know but this key information isn’t being passed up and down the supply chain. A standard of practice for product compliance should be in place.

Education for all

If all staff, particularly front line sales staff are trained and furnished with the right information and right questions and can relay the information back to the buyer confidently, backing it up on quotations and relevant paperwork, product safety and compliance can be used to build a solid relationship with customers. Such relationships are based on trust because time has been taken to educate and inform.

The bpma has a comprehensive industry specific education programme for member companies where product compliance is just one of 14 subject categories. Topics such as General Product Safety Regulations, WEEE, RoHS, and Toy Safety are available for all learners. It will also be releasing new content on this category in Autumn 2016.

The bpma works closely with specialist partner Intertek to ensure the industry has the most up to date information. White papers and guides are also available on the bpma website under resource centre. Visit bpma.co.uk for details.

Daniela Arena is head of education and best practice, bpma

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