Product Compliance When Manufacturing in Asia

Product safety and compliance is, at least to many small businesses importing from Asia, an enigma, riddle and minefield all wrapped into one. Get it wrong, and you can get your product listing rejected on Amazon or something far worse.

 In this article, Fredrik Gronkvist from Chinaimportal.com and ComplianceGate.com breaks down the basics of what product compliance really is, and how you can implement it in practice as a small business owner importing goods from Vietnam, and elsewhere in Asia.

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About ComplianceGate.com

ComplianceGate.com is a portal offering free guides and online tools helping importers and eCommerce companies ensure compliance with product regulations in the United States, the European Union and Australia.

What is product compliance?

Essentially all products are regulated by at least one regulation. However, while some products are only covered by basic labeling requirements - other products require compliance with a long list of safety standards, chemical requirements and lab testing requirements.

Safety standards

There are two types of safety standards. Some safety standards cover specific product categories, while other apply to broadly to all products. The essence of product safety is that the product is safe for the consumer to use - regardless of whether specific standards exist for the product.

Further, many safety standards are voluntary, in the sense that it’s mandatory to comply. That said, you are always liable if the product injure a consumer.

Examples

Chemicals and heavy metals regulations

Lead, cadmium, formaldehyde and other substances are regulated in certain countries and US states. These regulations generally apply to all materials, rather than specific product categories.

Example 

  • California Proposition 65: California, USA

  • Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA): USA

  • REACH: EU

Documentation

In addition to ensuring that the product is technically compliant, you may also need to create documentation such as certificates or formal declarations used to demonstrate compliance to the US customs, consumers, retailers and market surveillance authorities (e.g. the CPSC).

 Such documents are issued by you as the importer.

Examples

  • General Certificate of Conformity (GCC): USA

  • Children’s Product Certificate (CPC): USA

  • CE Declaration of Conformity: EU

Product Labeling

Country of origin labelling (e.g. Made in Vietnam or Made in China) is mandatory for virtually all consumer products sold in the United States. As an importer, it’s essential that you create all label files and submit them to your factory, even if it’s something as basic as a three letter country of origin label.

Examples

  • Country of Origin: All consumer products

  • CPSIA tracking label: Children’s products

  • Textiles label: Apparel and textile products

Laboratory testing

Third party lab testing is the only way to verify that your products are compliant with all applicable safety standards and chemicals and heavy metals regulations. Doing so requires that you collect and submit samples to an accredited third party testing company, such as Intertek, QIMA or SGS.

Lab testing doesn’t have to take place in the manufacturing country, as long as the testing company is accredited in the target market (e.g. the United States).

Once the lab test is done, you’ll receive a test report that verifies whether your product is compliant. This document can the be submitted to the US customs, Amazon or the CPSC - should they ever request so.

That said, the act of laboratory testing is not mandatory for most products. But, it’s still in your interest given that all unsafe and non-compliant products are subject to recalls.

Lab testing is simply the only way to be sure.

Product Category Overview

Furniture

  • Fire safety standards may apply

  • Chemicals and heavy metals regulations may apply (e.g. fabric cover and PU leather)

  • Labeling requirements (Country of Origin, accurate material description)

Footwear 

  • General safety requirements apply (e.g. non-slip soles)

  • Chemicals and heavy metals regulations may apply (e.g. fabric cover and PU leather)

  • Labeling requirements (Country of Origin, accurate material description)

Bags and backpacks

  • Chemicals and heavy metals regulations may apply (e.g. textiles and leather)

  • Labeling requirements (Country of Origin, accurate material description)

Children’s Products

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is applicable to all children’s products sold in the United States. For example, if you import children’s footwear or children’s furniture, CPSIA is applicable ‘on top’ of all other requirements.

CPSIA Overview

  • Compliance with ASTM standards and CPSC substance bans is mandatory

  • CPSIA tracking label

  • Children’s Product Certificate

  • Laboratory testing is mandatory (accredited testing companies only)

What can happen if I import and sell non-compliant products?

Non-compliance can mean very different things. It may be something as simple as a missing country of origin label, or something more serious - such as a self-exploding lithium battery.

However, it’s always your responsibility as an importer to ensure that your products comply with all relevant product regulations - including everything from safety standards and chemical restrictions to basic country of origin labels.

There are a few different scenarios that can play out if you import non-compliant goods:

  • Shipment seized by the US customs

  • CPSC issues a forced recall (if the product is reported by a customer)

  • Amazon.com pulls your listing or reject the product listing in the first place

Which steps do I need to take as an importer to ensure compliance?

I suggest you follow this process:

Step 1: Confirm applicable regulations for your product

  • Safety standards

  • Chemicals and heavy metals regulations

  • Labeling requirements

  • Documentation requirements

Step 2: Supplier assessment

While you should not ask your supplier for advice related to compliance, as they are not qualified to answer such questions, you should at a minimum request test reports from previous orders. Such test reports cannot be applied to your products, but you can at least assess if they have previous experience making compliant products for the United States.

 Step: Execute

  • Inform the supplier of all regulations and safety standards that they must follow (and what this means in practice)

  • Create label files and send to your supplier

  • Create documentation

  • Book lab testing