What is QCA? Safety First in the Promotional Products Industry
If you’ve done any dealings with the promotional products industry – ordering tumblers for your company picnic, sticky notes for the supply closet, or key chains for your fundraiser – it’s possible you’ve noticed the phrase “QCA Certified.” It shows up on QLP’s search options sidebar and appears on lots of our product description pages. It looks like this:
Handsome, isn’t he? QCA stands for Quality Certification Alliance and next to the logo, it explains just what that means:
“This product is provided by a safe, high-quality, socially compliant, and environmentally conscientious manufacturer.”
That sounds great, right? But maybe you’re a little fuzzy on what it means for a manufacturer to be “safe” and “socially compliant.” And how much quality goes into making something “high quality”? Do manufacturers have to get certified to make promotional products, and what does certification entail? What prompted the formation of a quality and safety association anyway? Just what is QCA all about and what does it really mean to you?
Great questions all around, folks. Let’s get some answers together!
In the Beginning
From car recalls to food safety, we are living in the age of safety awareness. You can’t turn on the news without hearing questions about what’s in our food or our medicine. It seems fair that at some point someone might ask what was in their promotional products.
So in 2008, QCA was founded by a group of companies that import or manufacture promotional products. According the QCA FAQ page, it was time to create an organization that specialized in developing compliance programs – the world of promotional products had a lot of organizations that serve the industry, but none that deal with safety and compliance specifically. They notably add, “The wide range of business models and the desire to find a one-size-fits-all solution tends to steer the industry towards the lowest common denominator as opposed to a standard that Fortune 1000 will find acceptable.”
Basically, QCA is around to keep promotional product companies from cutting corners and to help them get recognition (and orders) from big players in the business world.
So how does a manufacturer or supplier get certified and recognized as safe and socially responsible?
QCA grants certification to companies who complete a third-party audit of their business location (including headquarters and supply chain locations) and company procedures. Any company that manufactures or imports promotional products is eligible to apply for QCA certification. The QCA website states that they have companies participating in QCA accreditation with annual revenues ranging from two million to 480 million – so, big or small, there is a place for you at the safety table.
These companies have to adhere to a set of standards that combine local and national laws and industry best practices. The accreditation focuses on five areas: product safety, product quality, supply chain security, social accountability, and environmental stewardship. Certification is good for two years, and processes continued to be reviewed for compliance by QCA at random on a yearly basis.
Since the QCA-vetting process isn’t mandatory to do business in the promotional products world, any organization willing to go through the audit process and observe the strict guidelines would seem to be a business that cares about its people and its customers. QCA-certified suppliers are seen as leaders in the industry, as well as forward-thinking, credible people to do business with. When companies graduate with their certification, their products get a “QCA Certified” logo to proudly display Internet-wide.
Practicing Safe Promoting
“This category is exploding, and one of the most frequently asked questions from both the distributor base as well as the end users is around the quality and safety of the electronics. Being able to tell the story that we have a third party that monitors all of our processes goes a long way.” – Matt Rosenbaum
To be certified as safe and compliant, suppliers need to do a few things after applying with QCA:
- First, anything that goes into making the product has to be deemed safe to work with – no materials that would poison someone if they were inhaled, for instance. Materials also have to be safe for end users to squeeze, wear, etc., without risk of adverse reactions.
- Also, they have to be put together in such a way that it doesn’t endanger people or property. Forging stress balls over an open flame in the middle of the break room would be a no-no.
- Products must be labeled properly to ensure safe use. Depending on the product, that could mean instructions printed right on it or just a list of guidelines easily found on the supplier’s website.
- Suppliers also need to have an effective recall strategy in place should a product prove faulty or hazardous down the line.
Matt Rosenbaum, a rep at the supplier Polyconcept North America, notes that one area where this certification is really valuable is mobile tech.
“This category is exploding, and one of the most frequently asked questions from both the distributor base as well as the end users is around the quality and safety of the electronics. Being able to tell the story that we have a third party that monitors all of our processes goes a long way,” he says.
QCA also works to ensure supply chain security. This means assessing the security of manufacturing sites and warehouses that transform a blank product into a snazzy, imprinted product and then ship them to end users. Having a safe supply chain means being able to protect a company’s assets and resources, and the companies that receive accreditation in this area have to maintain documentation that their merchandise is packaged and shipped securely.
Championing Every Environment
QCA also works to improve company practices in the areas of social accountability and environmental impact – in these ways, they work towards a safer working atmosphere as well as a protected planet.
QCA accredited companies have to have procedures in place to reduce the use of hazardous substances and generation of waste. They also have to have policies that work to prevent pollution, along with documented guidelines for conserving water and energy.
In addition, QCA works to identify any of the substances that go into promotional products – what your stress balls, pens, flash drives, and other promo goodies are made of. Knowing what goes into products and where those substances come from can help manage the impact on the environment; alternative materials, like recycled plastics, can often be used during manufacturing. This helps reduce environmental impact at the creation of products, as well as at their disposal (RIP stress balls). If something is made of better materials, it’s better for the consumer who uses it and also better for the earth if it gets lost or tossed accidentally. It’s a life cycle of win.
Social accountability focuses on safe labor standards. This includes fair treatment and safe working conditions at the companies that produce, assemble, and import promo products. Generally, good working conditions include complying with labor laws, observing working hour limits, and following health and safety standards, as well as meeting wage requirements. It also bans child and forced labor and puts limits on disciplinary actions. Maintaining all of these criteria across the scope of the business often means exceeding local requirements and sets a company apart from its competition.
The Significance of Safety
By now you might be thinking, “Okay, we’re just talking about stress balls and sunglasses, not airplane safety. What’s the big deal?”
“I think it is up to all of us to help educate all of our customers [about] the value in ordering from suppliers that are part of the QCA, and what this will save you in the long run.” – Matt Rosenbaum
The reality is that promotional product safety benefits everyone. Manufacturers and distributors can feel certain that their products won’t spontaneously combust or pose any other hazard that might result in a costly recall or legal action. Businesses that are accredited by the Quality Certification Alliance can then position themselves as industry leaders and promote themselves as companies that care.
Consumers, on the other hand, can feel confident placing orders for anything from mugs to water bottles to baseball caps, knowing that whatever customized gear they’ve ordered will build up their brand without backfiring (or melting or exploding or shattering or other dangerous deeds).
Matt Rosenbaum reminds us that when it comes to quality products, price isn’t the only criterion and that suppliers have a vested interest in thinking about quality and safety. He says, “I think it is up to all of us to help educate all of our customers [about] the value in ordering from suppliers that are part of the QCA, and what this will save you in the long run.”
In short, we show the QCA logo so that our customers can have peace of mind when they order those items. Whether you’re looking to save time trying to find the highest-quality products or just save face for your brand and avoid embarrassing promotional product mishaps, just look for the QCA logo!
Does your business pride itself on offering safe products? Do you plan to order QCA certified promotional products in the future? Let us know in the comments below!