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Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat

A visit to the recent National Safety Congress must have seemed like a treat-filled holiday for representatives from Chinese manufacturers of safety products, since some of them decided to help themselves to PPE stored in closed cabinets and being modeled by manikins. Many of the U.S.-based exhibitors, however, felt tricked.

At first, I thought it was an “urban legend”-type story. Rumors were circulating last Tuesday morning – day two of the “expo” part of the National Safety Congress and Expo – that some of the representatives from the many, many booths representing Chinese manufacturing companies had been caught stealing personal protective equipment (PPE) being displayed and stored in the booths of some of the larger, more innovative American manufacturers. I thought it was sour grapes, whispers started by American companies that were relegated to some of the outlying aisles because of an influx of Asian manufacturing companies that not only had single and double booths scattered throughout the floor, but huge islands housing multiple manufacturers smack in the middle of some of the more coveted center aisles.

Then I spoke with people who actually had been in their booths – in one case, in a conference room within the booth – when manikins were being stripped of gloves, eye protection, respirators, tool belts and anything else that could be removed and, I’m sure, copied by Chinese manufacturers, some of whom are not known for their respect of patents and copyrights. In the case of the folks in their conference room, they came out to discover people trying to open locked cabinets and pilfering through cabinets that weren’t locked.

One person who witnessed what went on told me that shortly before the show closed for the day on Monday, representatives from the Chinese companies hid in bathrooms or busied themselves in their booths and waited for everyone else to leave. Once the area appeared to be clear, they moved from booth to booth, taking what they could.

I don’t know about you, but I find this appalling on several levels. One, American manufacturers who have not outsourced their production to countries like China already are at a disadvantage, because they are finding it difficult to compete against companies that pay 1/10th or less what they have to pay for wages, benefits and materials. Many manufacturing operations in other countries also receive significant government subsidies to offset costs. American companies (and many European luxury brands) are contending with knockoffs of their high-end products that look like the real deal but cost 50 percent less (sometimes even 75 percent less) than their products. The American companies try to compete based on the high quality of their products, but uneducated consumers, looking at the two similar-looking products, don’t understand that one company does not manufacture products using the same high-quality production values and materials. They look the same so they must protect the same and wear the same, right?

I also find it appalling because of the hubris of the representatives of the Asian companies, who apparently showed no shame in being caught stealing. If I was an exhibitor, I would have tackled anyone I caught stealing my stuff and tied him or her to my booth until the police could be called. I think the folks I spoke with showed great restraint in not throwing a beating to the people they caught stealing from their booths.

And frankly, I find it appalling that the National Safety Council, having been supported for decades by the U.S. manufacturing companies that were exhibiting in Orlando last week, encouraged and accommodated these dens of thieves. I heard from some U.S. companies that they seriously are reconsidering their participation in the National Safety Congress and Expo and might not exhibit next year or plan to scale back considerably. I hope they do, and I hope that if they do decide to bypass that show in the future, that they say why, loud and clear.

It’s time for all of us to speak out and speak up for the U.S. companies that are the backbone of our economy, that provide employment for millions, that protect our workers by manufacturing equipment that is constructed using the best materials, the best technology and the highest manufacturing standards. I generally am not a “Team USA” cheerleader, as I believe we all must think like citizens of the world, not just of one country, but in this case…

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

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