Blame the Supplier: A Roundup of Recent Supply Chain Scandals

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Makeup for tweens is controversial enough on its own, but when asbestos is involved, national news headlines follow. ABC11 reported this week that asbestos was found to be present in the “Just Shine Shimmer Powder” sold at Justice, a national retailer of girls’ apparel.

Asbestos fibers, once inhaled, remain in the lungs permanently. As Sean Fitzgerald, the director of research at the lab where the investigation was conducted, told ABC11, children “could die an untimely death in their thirties or forties because of the exposure to asbestos in this product.”

In response, Justice released a statement that they’ve pulled the toxic powder from stores and their website, declaring that their “suppliers are required to produce all products in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

Considering how common it is for talcum powder to be contaminated with asbestos, it is likely that the problem was indeed with a talc supplier. Still not scared? Here’s a roundup of four other recent scandals where supplier wrongdoings were front and center.

The Airbag Supplier

It started with a 2014 New York Times exposé. Takata Corporation, a Japanese car parts supplier to around 20 automakers, including Toyota, Ford and BMW, had known for years that its airbags were defective and liable to rupture and eject shrapnel — and it kept quiet on the matter.

Now, there have been 17 deaths and 180 injuries linked to the airbags, not to mention plummeting consumer trust and round after round of vehicle recalls. Takata declared bankruptcy in June, but the saga continues. Last week, the number of confirmed death rose again, and Takata is recalling another 2.7 million airbag inflators due to explosion risks, adding to the automakers’ liabilities.

The Apparel Supplier

Human rights violations in the apparel supply chain are no rarity, but particularly egregious was the case of underage Syrian refugees working in Turkish sweatshops that supply clothes to retailers like Asos, Marks & Spencer and Zara, discovered by BBC during an undercover investigation last year. The workers told reporters about low wages and grueling work conditions that include using hazardous chemicals without a face mask.

Responses from the retailers ranged from promising legal employment to the workers to offering them financial assistance. Quite a few said that the factories were not an approved supplier and the result of subcontracting.

The Electronics Supplier

From conflict minerals to parts assembly in low-wage countries, the electronics industry is also no stranger to human rights violations. In 2010, the Foxconn factory, which makes iPhones and iPads for Apple Inc., saw 14 suicides and four attempts. Undercover reporters found that the workers were subjected to low pay, mandatory overtime, unpaid work meetings and dormitory overcrowding.

Foxconn addressed the suicides first by requiring new employees to sign a waiver stating that the company would not be held responsible for suicides. When this proved understandably unpopular, Foxconn installed safety nets around the facilities to prevent suicides. More suicides at Foxconn nevertheless made the news a year ago, but the manufacturer may have found a foolproof solution. Improving working conditions? Of course not. Foxconn has a three-phase plan to fully automate its factories.

The Beef Horsemeat Supplier

Remember the great horsemeat scandal of 2013? Here’s a quick recap. Horse DNA was discovered in frozen “beef” patties in Britain and Ireland. In some cases, the burgers were primarily horsemeat, raising questions on supply chain traceability and bringing the issue of food fraud to public attention.

Fast-forward four and a half years, and E.U. police have arrested 65 people linked to a racket selling horses unfit for human consumption, Newsweek reports, charging them with crimes including animal abuse, document forgery, crimes against public health and money laundering. It is believed that the meat was sold throughout Europe and that the racket had collaborators in some eight countries.

However, one must ask if this uproar is in part due to the unpopularity of horsemeat. An acquaintance of mine recently announced on social media that he’s looking for someone who can export horses from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan for consumption — and the response was not quite enthusiastic. So, readers: If there are Azerbaijani horse exporters among you, do reach out!

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