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Traceability in China

Qingdao port

Alison Roel, Product Integrity Manager at the MSC

By Alison Roel, MSC Product Integrity Manager

At the end of last year, two of us from the product integrity team at MSC, travelled to Qingdao to deliver training to the Certification Bodies on MSC Chain of Custody certification.

Even today, getting to Qingdao takes some effort and we travelled for a day and a half from London via Singapore. If you get the chance, I really recommend the Chinese film ‘First Time’ which I watched on the plane – really sweet and very different to Hollywood films. Arriving at Singapore beautiful smells of oriental foods greeted us in the lobby but arriving in early evening and heading off at midnight gives you a really surreal sense of time. The next leg to Qingdao was a flight via the Chinese city of Wuhan – the biggest city in central China – a little bigger than London. Travelling with a Chinese airline and stopping on route was a really different experience – especially as we didn’t speak Mandarin! At Wuhan everyone was taken off the airplane and then led through the airport and customs. At one point the official gave instructions in Mandarin dividing the group in two. Fortunately a fellow passenger told us which way to go. So, finally we arrived in Qingdao, a little jet-lagged but ready for a day of meetings ahead of us.

Key country for traceability certification

There are over 200 companies in China trading in MSC products and two certifiers (auditing companies) that audit them to see they are meeting the MSC requirements. The certifiers’ role is essential as they determine if a company can be certified and therefore able to trade in MSC products. To get MSC certified a company has to demonstrate to their certifier that they meet the MSC requirements for traceability, separation, identification and management. With the distance and language barriers, meeting the auditors in person to train them on the certification requirements is crucial.

Many of the auditors we met we’ve already worked really closely with.  Since a colleague went on maternity, earlier in the year, I had taken on responsibility for working with certifiers in China. So over those months – in between investigating issues, responding to queries, and planning for training – I had been in close contact with at least three of the auditors. But of course, calls on Skype in different time zones, or catching up on emails the following day are nothing like meeting the people. Going to China was also a great opportunity to spend time with Edith Lam, who works for ASI and learn about auditing in China.

Although many of the auditors had perfect English, we had a translator with us to make sure everything could be understood by all.  It is quite different working through a translator: you have to be careful to manage your pace, something I took a while getting used to!

During the 2 day training not only could we provide auditors with clarity on certain requirements and answer specific questions; but also we learnt from them about how businesses operate in China so that we’re in a better position to develop MSC requirements in relation to this.

Traceability on the ground

We spent the week in Qingdao carrying out the training and attending some audits to see the MSC requirements really be put to practice.  It was very interesting to see the processing at the factories in China. Each factory consisted of several blocks; workshops, cold storage, offices. One of the factories had a dormitory block and another had plots of land for workers to grow things. Like most fish processing plants, all the facilities handling the fish were kept cold, to preserve the fish, so, like the workers, we wrapped ourselves up to keep warm.

Qingdao is a fast growing city – already half the size of Wuhan – and was home to the Olympic Sailing in 2008. Qingdao being a coastal city we ate some amazing local seafood and soon learnt that portions in China are not intended to be finished! Having learn an incredible amount on this trip and provided auditors with answers to many of their questions we were also aware of how much more support we could give, particularly as the number of companies handling MSC products in China continues to grow. With this in mind, we’ll soon be opening MSC office in China and I will be visiting again in March, this time with my colleague Ben to give more training. More updates then… AR

Find out more about MSC traceability.

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