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container shipThe promotional product industry has long been a world where nearly anything goes. For decades, customers and distributors had little incentive to question how a product was made or where it came from as long as it could be supplied in bulk and printed with a logo.

Fortunately, indifference to product manufacturing is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Transparency is now a major priority among promotional product distributors and clients, especially where overeas sourcing is concerned. Buyers want to know how a product was made and by whom. Furthermore, they want to know if the product was produced to high quality standards, how secure the supply chain is, and whether manufacturers meet social accountability and environmental expectations.

Why Transparency is Important

Importing overseas products has always been a major part of the promotional product industry. However, increased globalization has further fueled global manufacturing and trade.

While American manufacturers often comply with minimum standards with regard to environmental concerns, product safety, and treatment of employees, foreign manufacturers may not hold themselves to the same standards. Promotional product buyers often don’t want to support companies who may be hurting the environment, treating workers unfairly, or producing poor-quality products.

The rise of the Internet economy has also lowered the barrier of entry to becoming a promotional products distributor. Nearly anyone with some capital and a bit of business savvy can set up shop as an online promotional products distributor. In fact, the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) reported last year that the number of distributors increased by nearly five percent from 2011 to 2012.

While an increase in distributors may increase customer choice, it can also lower the quality standards of the industry as a whole. Newer distributors may not have the same due diligence processes as more established companies or may not have high quality or accountability standards.

How Transparency is Achieved

Transparency starts with distributors. Since distributors are the critical link between customer and manufacturer, distributors have the power to hold manufacturers accountable. Large distributors who value transparency are often able to leverage their volume to push manufacturers to be more transparent.

Not all manufacturers are keen on the idea of being more transparent and some simply don’t understand the need for it. Here at parsonsKellogg, we take that attitude as a sign that the company isn’t the type of partner we seek.

There are a number of ways that distributors can promote transparency in the supply chain. One of these is by conducting regular audits on their manufacturers. An audit is generally done when a supplier is brought on board, but audits should continue on a regular basis. It’s important for the audit to focus on the facility that is actually going to produce the product, as different facilities may not all have the same standards, even if they’re owned by the same company.

Many promotional product distributors also rely on QCA Accreditation. QCA stands for Quality Certification Alliance. The designation signals that the manufacturer has gone through a strict audit process to confirm high standards in five areas:

  • Product safety
  • Product quality
  • Supply chain security
  • Social accountability
  • Environmental stewardship

The QCA certification makes it easier for distributors to maintain transparency in their own supply chain. While large distributors may have the resources to conduct their own audits, that’s not always the case with smaller distributors. The QCA accreditation ensures that a supplier has met the highest levels of production, environmental, and accountability standards.

What It Means for Buyers

For buyers of promotional products, supply chain transparency isn’t just about being a good corporate citizen – it’s good business. There have been a number of stories in the media lately that make this point, from custom glasses produced for McDonalds being recalled due to high cadmium levels, to a fire at a Bangladeshi garment factory that supplied clothing to stores such as Walmart and Sears that killed 112 people. Every time incidents such as thee occur, they not only tarnish the reputations of the companies that purchase the products, they also expose them to substantial legal liability.

Here at parsonsKellogg, we take supply chain transparency seriously and we have considerable experience sourcing products from overseas for a number of Fortune 500 clients. As a buyer, its important to make sure that you are are working with an experienced distributor and that you ask them about issues relating to product safety, quality control, and social accountability before placing your order.

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