Thursday, January 28, 2010

Toyota an Example of a Failing Global Village

Today, Japanese auto giant Toyota announced another series of recalls which could lead to the injury or death of drivers, passengers, and even pedestrians.

Today’s recall affects over a million vehicles in the States – previously the automaker announced a similar recall affecting about 270,000 cars in Canada and 2.3 million cars in the States. The problem – a faulty gas pedal which could stick, propelling the vehicle into oncoming traffic, people, or whatever else happens to be in the path of destruction.

Toyota says they may be recalling vehicles in China and Europe as well, making this a problem of global proportions.

Which is fitting of sorts, the problem is global in nature – outsourcing parts and manufacturing operations to other countries, where labor is cheap and quality assurance doesn’t exist.

You don’t have to be an academic to see the troubling trend, just reviewing the headlines in the major newspapers around the world reveals all.

We’re seeing more recalls and consumer alerts for faulty products every year, as companies continue to cut corners to save money.

In recent years, food producer Maple Leaf Foods had numerous Listeria outbreaks – a deadly bacteria which snuck into their processing plants. Over a dozen people died, many more reported possible contamination, and the company’s reputation sunk quicker than a sunset.

Pet food made in China was linked to numerous dog and cat deaths around the world – it had anti-freeze in it. If you have a dog or cat feeding dish made in China, you may want to toss it, some have caused serious illnesses because of lead-based paint.

Lead-based paints in children’s toys proudly boasting a “Made in China” label have also caused health scares across the globe.

Toyota’s recent recalls are just the latest in a very public series of events showing a serious failing of our global village – quality control.

For the past decade many companies have been farming out their products and services to other countries, where wages are lower, saving them money. The problem is, as is always the case, you get what you pay for.

When wages are low, so too is the way the company treats its employees. And when companies don’t treat their employees well, quality doesn’t matter.

Sure, it may cost less to make a widget in Mexico than in North America – but if that widget falls off while you are driving over a 100 KM/Hour down the highway, and you can’t stop, that cost savings just cost a lot more – your life.

But that’s assuming companies that cut these cost savings corners actually care about you in the first place.

A lot of the heads running these global organizations just don’t appear to care – that is until it is their good company’s name making the horrible headlines about faulty products and services, recalls, or in some cases, even the death of their customers or others.

Do people have to die before a company wakes up, and realizes the ultimate cost of using cheaply made products and services?

Sadly, even death doesn’t influence the corporate movers and shakers anymore. Less than a year after the deadly Listeria outbreaks at Maple Leaf Foods, despite a large-scale media campaign where the company president appeared on television, radio and full-page newspaper ads assuring us it wouldn’t happen again – it did.

Toyota’s recent recall isn’t the first for the automaker, and it isn’t the first for any automaker. All the car companies have had recalls of varying degrees.

However a truly global village example may be a recall that you’ve never heard of before, but could affect you or the ones you love.

The average commercial jumbo jet has thousands of parts, many made all over the world. There have been instances where an airplane manufacturer, or in some cases even the manufacturer of a specific part or series of parts, have recalled the part, or issued a service bulletin advising of specific maintenance which must be done, to ensure the part or series of parts doesn’t fail. Some of these bulletins have even been issued by governments – in the United States they are issued by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and called “Air Worthiness Directives.”

When the FAA issues an Air Worthiness Directive, it must be followed. It’s the American government’s way of saying this must be done, if you want to continue to fly your planes in our airspace.

There have been instances where an airline hasn’t followed an FAA Air Worthiness Directive, resulting in a faulty part, which has brought down an airliner, and caused numerous deaths and injuries.

As consumers, we have no way of knowing about these internal airline documents – the average person doesn’t even know they exist. Yet these product recalls and fixes affect all of us who fly, and all the families and friends of those soaring in the sky.

Where does it end?

Again we have to ask, do people have to die before the corporate minds providing us with the products and services we depend on change their ways?

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