The struggle to ensure quality in quality-testing centers in the Mekong region

As industries in countries in the Mekong region begin to compete in the global stage, they also unfortunately realize that their products – measured by laboratories in their own countries which most often do not comply with international testing standards – do not measure up to recognized global standards. This non-conformation of laboratories with internationally-recognized testing quality standards presents a “technical barrier to trade,” a fact recognized by the World Trade Organization.

And to help address that, the GERES Biomass Energy Laboratory – with support from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstove within the frame of Regional Testing and Knowledge Center support to GERES – facilitated a training on June 25, 2015 at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia with whom GERES signed a memorandum of understanding earlier in the day as regards co-management of the biomass energy laboratory.

Guillaume Monceaux, G-BEL’s Manager, conducts a training on Quality Assurance Plan implementation among laboratory professionals from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The training was held for the benefit of laboratory professionals in the region, and talked about ISO/IEC 17025: 2005, otherwise known as General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories, the main standard used by testing and calibration laboratories since 1999. The Standard sets the bar in Quality management system as well as in technical competency of testing laboratories.

A total of 14 participated in the training, more than half of whom work at testing centers in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. None of the testing centers that they represent had been accredited for ISO 17025. One has – for the past two years – been actively working towards accreditation (and expects it to be granted within the year), while many are just overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable challenges associated with getting an accreditation.

Participants at the discussion talked about challenges in resources – financial, materials, human resources – of laboratories which present serious barriers to accreditation

Challenges in resources – too hefty operating and accreditation costs, materials and equipment of non-standardized calibration, and lack of skilled personnel – were cited in a Roundtable Discussion on Quality Assurance Plan Implementation, which happened later in the day, by participants coming from the Cambodian government, various research institutions, private testing centers and associated businesses (e.g. suppliers, etc.) from Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Particularly in Cambodia, the issue of lack of skilled technical human resource compounded by a high turnover rate among technical staff members presents a serious obstacle to accreditation.

Despite these, Sok Pisith, a chemical engineering laboratory technician from the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, says that they are looking into seriously working towards accreditation so that they could ‘’charge more to clients.’’

But even a forecast of improved profits after accreditation is dubious, according to Dr. Davin Uy, Director at Food Technology Services and Supply. “There is little demand for testing services. A lab will invest thousands of dollars to get this accreditation, but it’ll soon realize that there is just little demand for services, that clients are willing to pay so little for services. Unless there is clear policy by government indicating support for laboratories and testing, and more importantly, standards, laboratories will not survive,” Uy says.