After the previous terrible incidents related to contaminated milk powder in China’s dairy industry as well as lead tainted toys, and its devastating impact on children, there is a new story developing which is focused on children’s jewelry.  The Associated Press conducted an investigation and is reporting that some Chinese manufacturers have been substituting Cadmium, a dangerous heavy metal and known carcinogen, in the manufacture of charm bracelets and shiny pendants being sold throughout the United States and other countries.  According to this story, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission will be opening an investigation and take action, if necessary, if it finds evidence of the alleged contamination. The list of potential cadmium-laced products is significant and involves jewelry sold in Wal-Mart and other retail outlets.

This pattern seems to be common phenomena for suppliers residing in China, who tend to always seek a lower cost alternative to insure profitability.  The problem dates back to the previous use of lead in jewelry, which has since been heavily regulated under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.  That legislation was prompted from the outcry of numerous incidents of lead found in the paint of toys imported from China.  Since then, zinc has been utilized as a safer and nontoxic alternative for exported jewelry, but zinc has its own drawbacks in lack of luster and higher price. In 2008, the price of cadmium plummeted, and it became a likely alternative. In the AP article, jewelry industry veterans in China claim that cadmium has been used in domestic products for years, but should not have been used in exported products. 

One has to ask, is shinier and cheaper more important than the risk to the health of children?  Are the lack of safe standards for manufacturing and distributing goods to Chinese consumers and especially children, acceptable in China and not in export?  I say no to both.

Since the AP story will surely capture the attention of parents, as well as the attention of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, jewelry and other related manufacturers should expect further investigations, potential actions and fallout. It is a development that needs to be followed, and we will certainly keep an eye out for any further fallout.

If you are interested in a book that adequately describes the phenomena of China’s production game, you should read Poorly Made  in China. The author, Paul Midler, served as a manufacturing agent helping non-Chinese firms deal with issues involving their Chinese suppliers.  Midler notes that “trouble was his business.” I often refer to this book in my supply chain risk workshops.

 Bob Ferrari