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Holding China Accountable? (Travers Ethics Conference 10 Oct 08) October 13, 2008

Posted by marikokatsura in event.
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I only managed to attend the two panel discussions in the morning session, but here
is a quick summary of the talk which took place on Oct 10th, 2008.

Strategies for protecting consumers in a globalised world

The FDA is massively under-resourced wrt to regulation/inspection of Chinese producers. While inspection rates for European producers/factories are somewhere between 60-90%, India around 50%, the rate for China is a woeful 11%. This is a result of two factors: i) the large number of producers in China owing to the small and medium sized (SME) status of the majority of exporters, and ii) the acute shortage of Chinese/Mandarin speakers at the FDA. The few process inspections that the FDA does do in China are often done through interpreters (employees of the firm being inspected), with the result that the floor/plant manager’s actual answers may not be reflected in the inspection, e.g. FDA Inspector: “How often do you clean this vat?”, Plant manager: “Once a month”, Translator: “Every day”, FDA Report: “Meets FDA import requirements”.

The FDA has put together a plan to address the under-resourcing in 2007, but this is taking time to work through the government bureaucracy.

Challenges for the Chinese regulatory system

Local governments have strong vested interest to sweep reports of contamination/adulteration under the carpet owing to strong ties to local producers (local party leaders on the boards of state-owned enterprises) and concern for impact on local industry/employment. The central government has very poor
information sources at the local level and is unable to act.

The lack of a free press also limits information flow to the central government. Corruption is rife amongst journalists, e.g. journalists hearing of a potentially dangerous product are often bribed (and actively solicit bribes) to stop reporting on the issue. Food safety is also considered a sensitive issue by the central government and journalists have been dismissed or censured for reporting on these issues. Media regulation is post-publication with no way for journalists to see if publishing a report will have negative consequences pre-publication, provding a strong incentive not to risk report potentially “sensitive” stories.

Weak legal system and legal institutions fail to provide a check on unscrupulous producers. Fines even for cases where deaths have been caused are generally very low. Local courts are under pressure to protect local producers for economic/employment reasons.

(Reported by Yan Phao)

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