While developing and manufacturing a new product in China, it is worthwhile trying to get laboratory certifications that demonstrate the safety and compliance of your products.
It’s about your liability and about what your customers will think of your company/brand…
An importer’s product-safety liability
As an importer, you take responsibility for the safety of the products you sell on your market. In many countries, you hold the same liability as if you had manufactured the products yourself. For instance, here are some notes on importer liability in Europe.
Given that the legal risks lie on your shoulders, the minimum you should be obtaining from your suppliers in China are valid safety/compliance laboratory certifications that demonstrate that your products have passed official safety and performance tests run by accredited compliance testing companies (recognized testing laboratories).
This is especially the case if you deal in sensitive products – so these would be any including high-voltage electrical products, batteries, chemicals, children’s products, kitchenware, or food containment, for example.
If you are launching a new product and are unsure which standards your product needs to comply with, then finding out before engaging a manufacturer to produce them is a good start.
Is a passed lab test enough to protect me from any liability?
No, but it will reduce your legal exposure if you can show that:
- The testing plan was appropriate (and covered the main risks)
- The testing plan made sense (e.g. on each batch, or on a few different colors every time)
- The testing was done on samples taken at random
- You can show the data found etc. in an orderly and documented way
If specialized lawyers advise you to reduce your risks further, it may also be wise to look into purchasing product liability insurance.
You should also remember that product safety should be considered from the design and development stage – for example, is a part of your thinking devoted to designing your product in such a way that makes it very difficult for consumers to injure themselves with it (some companies use the design FMEA template) or assuring that it will be reliable long-term (a reliability testing plan would help here)?
However, regarding lab testing certifications, if your product complies with the local standards that apply, it will go a long way to ensuring that your product won’t be affected by recalls or, worse, potentially injure users.
What if my Chinese supplier provides these certificates?
This is a positive step. If the supplier continues to use exactly the same components and processes, the certification will remain relevant until it expires or standards change. If anything in the BOM, for instance, is changed, though, new testing will need to take place, so be aware of that if an older certificate is provided post-changes.
However, these warnings apply to certificates provided by suppliers (taken from this blog post):
- A product certification typically applies to a few samples that were sent before your production takes place. So they do not necessarily apply to your production. And the products that got certified might have been made in another factory!
- In China, manufacturers keep changing things — either because they don’t control their processes, or because they try to maximize their profit on every batch they make. So a certification from a previous batch applies to… that previous batch.
- The fact that the manufacturer was given a certificate for a product does not mean that all the samples they sent to the lab were compliant. They might have tried 10 times, and got lucky on the 10th time. This is particularly common when a chemical analysis is involved.
- Many certifications and testing reports are “photoshopped”, and a call to the issuing lab can reveal that.
- Sometimes they are “real fakes” that were fabricated by a lab employee — which means the lab will find it in their database and confirm that they are legitimate. (Note that this happens even with “big name” labs in China, but it is less likely to happen in Hong Kong).
As you can see, verifying the legitimacy of laboratory certifications is essential, as it’s dangerous to take your supplier’s word for it alone unless you’re 100% sure that they are trustworthy.
The danger of fake product safety certificates
I would guess that between 10% and 30% of the certificates given by Chinese suppliers to their customers are fake (And, when it came to protective equipment in early 2020, it was probably up to 50%). Why is that?
- On the supplier’s side, things are simple. There is no liability if the product is dangerous and there is virtually no punishment if a customer finds out that a document is fake. On the other hand, paying a testing laboratory to certify products costs money and a pass is not guaranteed…
- On the buyer’s side, the situation is a little more blurry. Many small importers think that a certificate from a famous lab will spare them of any liability (this is wrong). And often they don’t even know what regulatory standards apply to their products.
4 tips for checking the legitimacy of laboratory certifications
Here are a few tips that you can follow to have a better idea if the certificate offered is truly real (taken from this blog post):
1. Check the certificate’s format
If a supplier sends you a certificate that is not a regular pdf file, it means they don’t have the original file. Be suspicious of documents in .JPG, .PNG, and .DOC formats, as well as scanned PDFs.
If they don’t have the original file, what does it mean? What company actually sent samples to the laboratory and got that report? Is it a legitimate document? Was it photoshopped? These are red flags that call for an investigation.
2. Check the issuing laboratory is correct
If you have never heard of the test laboratory that issued the report, what to do?
- Google their name, see if they are ISO 17025 certified and if their testing scope even includes the product type in question.
- For EN standards, you can also check whether they are one of the “notified bodies” (the most authorized labs in Europe) in the NANDO database for that product category. The same general logic often applies when it comes to other countries’ standards.
3. Check if the certificate was really issued by that lab
Calling the testing lab is an option, but a faster solution is to check directly in their database which should be as straightforward as entering a certificate number on their website. Here are a few examples of common providers of laboratory certifications:
- TUV Rheinland: http://www.certipedia.com/search/companies_with_certified_products
- SGS: http://www.sgs.com/en/Our-Company/Certified-Client-Directories/Overview.aspx
- Intertek: http://www.intertek.com/business-assurance/certificate-validation/
- VDE: http://www.vde.com/en/institute/onlineservice/vde-approved-products/pages/online-search.aspx
4. Get professional help to check the certificate/s
You may need a hand to do this checking, especially if you deal with multiple certificates. With this in mind, you can work with an experienced company that is used to dealing with Chinese suppliers and already has a solid understanding of which testing laboratories are used and relevant for your product type. Our own Certificates & Reports Verification solution will be useful in this case.
If I’m not happy with the certificate/s provided, what then?
It should be written into your China-enforceable manufacturing contract that the products the supplier provides are compliant with the relevant regulations and safety standards for your market.
If you find out that the laboratory certifications they provide are not right for some reason, you can carry out your own lab testing before the products are shipped. If the results are not as expected and are in breach of your contract, it might be possible to recover the costs from the supplier.
But you may also wish to consider:
- Why is my supplier providing me with an outdated/fake/incorrect lab testing certificate?
- Why isn’t my supplier following my product specifications?
This then becomes a sourcing issue – have you been working with a reliable supplier from the start?
We are not lawyers. What we wrote above is based only on our understanding of the regulatory requirements. We do not present this information as a basis for you to make decisions, and we do not accept any liability if you do so. Please consult a lawyer before taking action.
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