The Image GroupThe Image Group

By Brian Kingsmore

Who Makes Your Promotional Products?

Question: Do you know who makes the promotional products you buy? In all likelihood, you don’t. But the people who sell them to you better know.

That’s one of the reasons we ask our suppliers to confirm their compliance with safety and social standards by signing our Commitment to Ethical & Responsible Conduct. Patterned after the PPAI Code of Product Responsibility Conduct, the form includes statements on the vendor’s environmental, safety, and quality commitments. But by signing the commitment, suppliers also attest that they do not abuse labor in any way.

I find it hard to believe that, in 2015, promises to refrain from employing underage, indentured, or slave labor are still necessary. And yet, there are manufacturers whose unscrupulous factories require employees to work long hours at unfair pay and in unsafe conditions. According to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization, nearly 21 million people are victims of labor abuse worldwide.

Common types of labor abuse sound like something from a Charles Dickens novel:

Forced Labor is work performed by someone who has not offered his or her efforts voluntarily. Forced labor, or slavery, is most often extracted by use of physical or emotional threat.

Child Labor involves the exploitive employment of kids between the ages of five and 17. Alarmingly, 11 percent of the world’s children in that age group are victims of child labor.

Debt Bondage, or bonded labor, includes forcing people to work to pay a financial obligation – such as accepting employer-provided housing or food – often with open-ended terms. A family’s debt bondage is sometimes passed from one generation to the next.

Fraudulent Contract Labor refers to requiring individuals to sign a work contract with misleading or hard-to-understand legal terms. The contracts often restrict employees from working elsewhere until their alleged commitments expire.

To be sure, most companies who purchase promotional products never consider the possibility that the items they buy might have been manufactured using forced or child labor. But when problems occur, not knowing about labor abuse carries little weight in court – or among public opinion. That’s why it’s important to do business with a company that thoroughly vets its suppliers.

So even if you don’t know who makes the promotional products you buy from The Image Group, rest assured that we’re taking steps to make certain that our vendors meet all international labor standards.

By The Image Group

Do Customers Care If You Are Socially Responsible?

Consumers around the world believe that companies have a responsibility to impact social change. According to the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, 91 percent of consumers expect companies to do more than simply make a profit for shareholders – they believe businesses should actively address social and environmental issues.

Cone Communications, a Boston-based PR and marketing agency, partnered with marketing analytics specialists Ebiquity on the study, which involved surveying 9,709 global consumers and gauging their opinions and perceptions about corporate social responsibility (CSR). Cone found consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about CSR, as well as personally engaged.

“Global consumers have officially embraced corporate social responsibility,” says the report, “not only as a universal expectation for companies but as a personal responsibility in their own lives.”

In a way, spending provides consumers with an avenue for demonstrating personal social responsibility. Among respondents, 84 percent say they prefer buying socially or environmentally responsible products and services, and they will switch brands to do so. Consumers also report a willingness to pay more – or buy less – if those actions can positively impact society.

Nine of 10 consumers are looking for more opportunities to purchase responsibly, which creates opportunities for companies to leverage their CSR efforts into a competitive advantage. But companies must give CSR more than lip service. Two-thirds of respondents say that only extraordinary CSR efforts get their attention – and earn their business.

Cone points out that companies must openly talk about their CSR progress. Unless they hear how you are addressing CSR, 52 percent of consumers assume you are not acting in socially responsible ways.

By The Image Group

Who’s Regulating Your Promotional Products?

As September drew to a close, a couple hundred safety-conscious people gathered for the PPAI Product Responsibility Summit in Bethesda, Maryland. Industry suppliers and distributors came together with government and legal experts to discuss advances in product safety and social responsibility. This was the fifth year PPAI held the event, and developments in just the past 12 months are worth mentioning.

One notable change is an increase in government agencies involved in regulating promotional products. Until recently, tracking promotional product safety fell largely on the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That certainly makes sense as the CPSC works to protect consumers from potential fire, choking, or chemical hazards, among other risks. The commission has a strong focus on children’s products and gets involved whenever consumer product recalls are necessary.

As awareness of promotional product safety has grown, so too has participation by various other government bodies. Agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency have become more active in regulating our industry.

Take wearable fitness devices, a popular promotional product item today, as an example. If an item utilizes a lithium-ion battery, the CPSC probably wants to know whether it has been tested for safety. If the product comes with a health claim, such as helping improve overall health by reminding you that you’re slouching or due for a drink of water, the FDA might consider the item a medical device. And regarding that health claim, the FTC will likely want to see how the seller substantiates it.

With scrutiny increasing, buyers of promotional products must be even more diligent in protecting their brands from regulatory missteps. That’s why we’ve made safety and social compliance one of our top concerns. When doing business with The Image Group, be assured that we’ve made every effort to meet and exceed all regulatory guidelines and social standards.

Your brand is our priority, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect its hard-earned reputation.

By The Image Group

Learning the Hard Way

Learning the Hard Way

A new study by Ecology Center found that 71 percent of university-themed merchandise sold at major retailers contains unacceptable amounts of hazardous chemicals. Researchers at the Michigan-based nonprofit tested sixty-five items and found substances banned or restricted from consumer goods, including arsenic, lead, mercury, phthalates, and toxic flame-retardants. More than a third of the tested products contained multiple harmful chemicals.

Ecology Center tested items with imprints from nineteen national universities – from key rings to seat cushions to sports jerseys – purchased from leading chains such as Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Kroger. The hazardous chemical levels routinely exceeded standards set by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

The study highlights the risks universities assume when licensing their brands for promotional products. Beyond the regulatory requirements of safety compliance, schools face public relations consequences if the branded products they distribute do not comply with the law.

“Many of the universities represented in our study pride themselves on their efforts to green their campuses, but there’s a disconnect when university-themed products contain harmful chemicals linked to diseases like certain cancers, thyroid disruption, infertility, and learning disabilities,” says Ecology Center’s Rebecca Meuninck.

Meuninck’s comment is a lesson for all university procurement officials. Failure to meet legal and socially accepted standards can result in lasting damage to a university’s reputation.

That’s why we at The Image Group have made product safety one of our top priorities. We understand our responsibility for protecting your brand by ensuring that every product you buy from us meets all legal and social safety standards. When you obtain branded goods from The Image Group, be assured that we’ve made every effort to meet and exceed all regulatory guidelines and social standards, so that our products are safe for everyone.

By The Image Group

Social Responsibility

Social Responsibility

At The Image Group, we’re serious about impacting social change – and raising safety compliance awareness within the promotional products industry. This past year, we’ve implemented new policies that have put us at the forefront of children’s product safety, and toward ensuring a socially compliant supply chain. You can read about those initiatives in our 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, along with other steps we’re taking to be a good corporate citizen. We know the report is not a final scorecard, but a milestone marker along our social compliance journey. However, we’re committed to the path we’ve taken.




Click Here to register for the Holland summit


Who Makes Your Promotional Products?
Do Customers Care If You Are Socially Responsible?
Who’s Regulating Your Promotional Products?
Learning the Hard Way
Social Responsibility