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Päivi Jokiniemi and Paul Trouth
Article related to: REACH
Zebra A/S – working with non-EU suppliers
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to interview Ms Jane Pors, the Head of Quality, Product Compliance and Packaging at Zebra A/S, owners of the fast-evolving retail chain Flying Tiger Copenhagen. We asked how her company goes beyond the minimum to ensure compliance while working with non-EU suppliers.
Up until a few years ago, Zebra A/S used external consultants to make sure that they were compliant with legislation for the different types of products that they buy.
By centralising their compliance department in-house, the company has been able to benefit from receiving direct information about the composition of the products they purchase and to assess whether they can approve the materials and substances used to form the end-products.
Going straight to the source
The majority of Zebra A/S’s suppliers are non-EU and based in Asia – mainly in China. To find out the product information the company needs, it goes directly to its suppliers. “We know the information we get is accurate because we go straight to the source. Our suppliers get the information directly from their factories and it flows easily because they are very well aware of what they’re doing. So even if they do not know something specific, like a particular CAS number, they can retrieve the information,” Ms Pors says.
Having only established the compliance department in the last few years, forming an efficient working process with suppliers is important. "The key to this has been clear communication. Our suppliers know what we want and understand that we mean it when we tell them our products need to be safe and compliant with legislation,” she adds.
Each year, Zebra A/S holds a training for their biggest suppliers and, besides that, also travels to see them to build a stronger relationship, to go through documents with them and to reinforce the message of what the company expects from them.
“If we just stay in the EU and dictate from here what we require from our suppliers, communication will break down very quickly. We do all we can to ensure that the business relationship works, that communication is clear and understood, and sometimes that requires meeting our suppliers face to face,” Ms Pors tells.
Difficulties in getting information
The company has changed some of their non-EU suppliers to suppliers based in the EU, especially for cosmetics where the legislation makes it easier to source such products from Europe. However, Ms Pors explains that sometimes there are actually more difficulties in getting information from suppliers in the EU.
“There is a big difference if you can actually talk directly to the manufacturer. For instance, if you go directly to a cosmetics manufacturer, they may well know everything about a product, but if the manufacturer does not produce it themselves, it can be difficult to get the information,” Ms Pors says.
For Zebra A/S’s other products, Ms Pors tells that it can actually be quite difficult to buy them directly from within the EU. “In Denmark, for instance, there are very few toys produced directly in the country,” she adds.
There are also issues when EU suppliers do not have a knowledge of chemistry, as this can make it challenging for a company to really establish an understanding about what they need. “Imagine that the EU supplier purchases the product or material from outside the EU, they then need to communicate these needs to the non-EU suppliers, which adds yet another layer of difficulty,” Ms Pors explains.
Getting a full picture of products
When talking about EU suppliers and compliance with REACH, Ms Pors tells of Zebra A/S’s passion to want to know about everything inside their products. “We want to have safe products and there is no other way than to know exactly what is inside them. We are adamant that we won’t have any products in our stores where we are unsure over what substances they contain. When we think about textiles, for instance, we want to know what they are made of and what pigments are used. For our metal rings and hair accessories, we need to know more detail on what alloys are being used,” she exemplifies.
To gain a better understanding, Zebra A/S has to collect all kinds of information. The first step in this is to check the product’s bill of materials (BOM), which outlines the raw materials, sub-components, assemblies, parts and quantities needed to develop the end-product. “The check of the BOM is a crucial step for our business. We start with all this information gathered in a spreadsheet and then use a tool to filter the data based on what type of product we are looking at. The supplier fills in the information and it then comes to our department to see if any changes are needed and if anything is missing,” Ms Pors explains.
When this check is complete, the final product assessment is done to see how the buyer intended the product to be used. “Think about the level of detail needed to decide if a product is to be used as a toy or not. It takes quite a lot of experience and expertise. You need to follow guidance from the EU on how to grade the product by age and therefore also need extensive knowledge on safety assessment in this area,” Ms Pors says.
“This knowledge is also highly subjective and not all countries in the EU would categorise the same product in the same way,” she concludes.
Jane Pors is the Head of Quality, Product Compliance and Packaging at Zebra A/S in Denmark. She holds an MSc in Biology and worked at a laboratory company for around 20 years, starting with ecotoxicology testing and moving on to product testing. Within the laboratory company, she started a consultancy service on legislation and the testing of materials and consumer products. After two years with her own consultancy company, Ms Pors joined Zebra A/S, where she has built the compliance department.
Interview by Paul Trouth
Published on: 17 May 2018
Top image: Zebra A/S
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