Earlier this week, I found myself rummaging through my 7-year-old daughter's jewelry box. I was on a mission to throw out every little fake metal trinket made in China she has accumulated in her short life.
There was plenty of it, but I was undeterred. With news now that faux jewelry made in China may be tainted with lead I had to do my motherly duty to rid our home of the poisonous scourge. I've also stopped buying food from China, toys from China and anything else from China. This is not an easy task.
But my mission -- a growing mission among many people in this country -- is probably making a lot of small business owners see red. It's not just big companies like Mattel feeling the brunt of the China backlash.
More and more small businesses are also looking to China to find cut-rate prices on goods, but unsafe products can spell doom for the little guys who don't have deep pockets to weather the fallout if the Chinese products they import end up to be deadly.
A small tire importer from New Jersey, Foreign Tire Sales Inc., couldn't even afford a recall when it figured out recently that the tires it was getting from China were missing a key safety gum strip and could suffer tread separation. The company claims such a recall, which would have included thousands of its tires, would put it out of business. They're suing the Chinese manufacturer for damages.
Small businesses might be taking a big risk when they deal with Chinese suppliers.
"Multinational megafirms can afford to fail in China," says Rob Collins, author of "Doing Business in China for Dummies." "Small and medium-sized firms can't."
Once mainly a haven for the big boys, Asia is increasingly is becoming a new frontier for many small businesses. About 12.6 percent of small business owners polled in 2004 by the National Federation of Independent Business bought some products from firms outside the U.S., with the bulk of those purchases coming from Asia.
Is it a good or bad thing? It could be bad if entrepreneurs let dollar signs cloud their common sense and fail to do enough to stop unsafe junk from getting into the hands of U.S. consumers.
Of course, sometimes it works out great. Randy Horn, president of game maker Zobmondo Entertainment, gets the bulk of his products from China. "I have not had any problems yet," he says.
Some things he has going for him:
* "My products are not painted in any way. So I am not worried about the lead paint issues."
* "My factory is privately owned and very rarely subcontracts work out to other factories," he says. The contractors he uses there all have "the equipment necessary to handle everything in house. They also have chosen to limit the number of customers that they have. So they are really not feeling the pressure to grow."
Alas, no one is completely safe.
Large U.S. manufacturers and importers say they have strong quality control measures in place, but Chinese suppliers are still sending tainted toothpaste and fish.
Small firms typically have few to no quality controls, says Collins. Companies need to take charge of production in China, he adds, but that means the little guys have to start spending more time in Asia to make sure the companies they're working with over there are up to snuff.
As if small business owners have the time and money for that. A round-trip ticket to Beijing is easily over a grand, not to mention the 13 hours of flight time.
Can you say, "Made in America"?