silence is not golden

August 4th, 2013

“中国企业别沉默” – “Chinese enterprises don’t stay silent. So says Jinghua Shibao. But it’s not only Chinese companies that are keeping silent:

2日,恒天然集团向8家客户通报了情况,但拒绝提供8家企业和相关产品名称,拒绝说明“受污”产品销往哪些国家和地区。

On August 2, Fonterra Group informed its eight customers of the situation, but refused to supply the names of those 8 enterprises or the relevant products and refused to explain which countries and regions the contaminated products were sold to.

I note the word “refused” in there. I also note that the reasons for Fonterra’s refusal are not reported.

It then notes that although AQSIQ had demanded a recall of the affected products, Chinese enterprises were still keeping their lips sealed. And then:

这种沉默让人不放心。中国是新西兰奶粉的主要进口国之一,而恒天然一家就占新西兰市场份额的90%。中国企业与恒天然受污产品无关的可能性有多大?

This kind of silence leaves people unsettled. China is a major importer of New Zealand milk powder, and Fonterra has a 90% share of the New Zealand market. What are the chances that Chinese enterprises have nothing to do with Fonterra’s contaminated products?

Indeed. It then points out that AQSIQ’s actions made it clear this wasn’t some minor issue, but even more, the fact that Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings was flying from Europe to China made it clear that something was up.

So why are Chinese enterprises silent on the issue? It gives two reasons. The first is that they might really have nothing to do with this issue, they might really have not bought any of the contaminated whey protein. But:

…从安抚消费者的角度讲,公布一下又何妨?说明情况,更有助于重建市场信任。

…from the point of view of comforting consumers, what’s to stop them announcing it? Explaining the situation is more helpful for rebuilding market confidence.

And the second is that they still might not have gotten used to immediately satisfying the consumers’ right to know. And:

如果国内质量检验标准没有对此次受污产品的相应规定,保持沉默就更可以理直气壮。

If domestic quality inspection standards don’t have any regulations relevant to this contamination incident, they can have even more confidence in maintaining their silence.

Then a paragraph starting:

有消费者感叹:国内企业不可靠,国外企业也不可靠。

Some consumers sigh: Domestic companies are untrustworthy, foreign companies are also untrustworthy.

Oh dear. But it goes on to suggest that a major problem here is the length of the production chain, which has so many uncontrollable elements and so many things that could go wrong.

面对总会出现的质量威胁,要让消费者觉得产品可靠,出了问题迅速公布是重要一环。

In the face of constantly appearing threats to safety, quickly announcing problems when they occurs is an important element in  letting consumers feel a product is reliable.

And then this:

说不该沉默,不是苛求国内企业,而是因为中国奶粉业始终没有从一系列丑闻中真正赎回名誉。恢复公信力的重要前提,是越在可能出现危机的时候越表现出坦诚。

It isn’t too demanding of Chinese companies to say they shouldn’t be silent, rather it’s because the Chinese milk powder industry hasn’t really redeemed it’s reputation from a series of scandals. An important precondition of restoring public trust is to display more candor at times when crises are more likely.

Yes, I found that a bit garbled, too, especially the first sentence. But the point is clear enough. Nobody trusts the Chinese dairy industries because of the long series of scandals, and winning people’s trust back means they’ll have to learn to openly inform consumers.

So, now we know, thanks to AQSIQ, which companies in China received the contaminated whey protein. Dumex has announced which products it is recalling, but so far it seems Wahaha and Shanghai Tangjiu are remaining silent. Can we trust their products? Not without any information, we can’t.

Also in Jinghua Shibao is this article, which I haven’t bothered to read, but which includes a timeline reminding readers of Fonterra’s connection to the Sanlu melamine scandal of 2008 and the DCD scandal of earlier this year. So Fonterra, too, has a bit of work to do to win people’s trust back.

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