Earlier this year a reader brought the following story to my attention. I’ll tell this story which is a lighter Limeblast, after several heavy weight Limeblasts, so my readers will be fresh and ready for some heavier stuff in June, July and August.

An Indian tanner who regularly imports wet-blue leathers booked a contract for wet-blue goatskins of East African origin from a European trader. One of the purchase conditions was that the goods had to be inspected prior to shipment, not so much as to throw out rejects or to overthrow the original selection but to see and stamp each and every skin.

The goods were ready for inspection just before the holiday season in December last year and the buyer was invited to send over his inspector, which he appears to be keeping for months at a time in East Africa. It seemed that all was going smoothly and the selector announced with twelve hours notice, that he would come over to the tannery to inspect the leather.

This was, of course, perfect but the catch was that he had no money, no means of transport, meaning that the tannery was supposed to pick him up, 60 kilometres away. To find a car and driver free at such short notice is not easy, but a solution was found and the selector, a young man of 24, was picked up and accompanied to the tannery.

The selector informed the tannery manager that he’d need a whole week to inspect the lot and that as a consequence he needed a car and driver at his disposal in order to shuttle the 60 kilometres from his boarding house to the tannery and back. Normally people or companies don’t have spare cars lying around with drivers to match in order to transport a buyer’s selector, so the demand from the selector posed a rather important problem.

The tannery management suggested that the selector take a small hotel at walking distance from the tannery for the working week, solving thus the car problem, but the selector refused as he found the hotel ‘not safe enough’, something the tannery denies. Anyway the only alternative was to commute by taxi every day, an idea that was also rejected as being too expensive. The selector returned to his boarding house and did not turn up the next day for the inspection of the skins.

The tannery manager was not satisfied with this situation, as he could not ship the skins without inspection. He found a solution as one of his employees commuted the 60 kilometre distance every day and was prepared to pick the selector up at a meeting point. Hallelujah! No no no, not so fast.

The selector was not prepared, again for alleged safety reasons, to cover the distance alone from his boarding house to the meeting point even in broad day light, and demanded to be picked up at his doorstep, which was just a step too far for those in the tannery who were trying to please and accommodate him. The tannery employee waited nevertheless for the inspector the next morning and called him on his mobile phone when he did not turn up. The inspector confirmed he wanted to be picked up at his doorstep, every day of the week, otherwise he would not come.

Emails were flying up and down from Africa to Europe and then again to India, but no solution was found. The Indians demanded inspection by their inspector, demanded the inspector to be treated with velvet gloves, but were unable to provide the means for their inspector to present himself at work.

It is obvious that an inspection clause in a contract does not mean door to door service. If a buyer wants to inspect his purchase, then he must organise himself to have his employee do the job without bothering the sellers with logistic problems that actually don’t concern them.

Anyway after a week of emailing the selector advised the tannery that he was ready to be picked up at the indicated meeting point and so, at long last, the matter was settled. Right? No! On the day of the pick up the selector again didn’t turn up and when called advised he had overslept and needed 45 minutes in order to be ready and present himself at the pick-up point. The tannery employee could not wait and arrive 45 minutes late at work so he left, fixing a new rendez-vous for the next day.

Meanwhile the buyer in India, the employer of the selector, advised the European trader: ‘Tell your people to collect the selector from his house and take him to the tannery. Tell them to start the work’, which is a rather strangely formulated request.

Okay, we have reached a point where the selector made it to the meeting point, managed to get into the car and arrived safe and sound at the tannery. He actually did a great job as he selected 5,000 skins in just two and a half hours. Wow. Great! No no no!

He announced at 10 am that he had finished for the day and demanded to be taken back to his boarding house. A flabbergasted tannery manager requested him to continue but was told that his company had set 5,000 skins as his daily inspection limit. When at long last a car was found at 11 am the selector decided he wanted to go back at 2 pm; hence the words ‘collaboration’ and ‘flexibility’ were not very prominent in the selector’s dictionary and what surprises even more is that this unorthodox and demanding attitude was backed by his employers in India.

Then, all of a sudden and for no explicable reason the selector turned up on time, did a magnificent job, fast and efficiently, and had the selection done in no time at all to the satisfaction of all. It left all involved with their mouths wide open!

In order to top the cake with some cream and sugar coating the buyer made the seller work and sweat for his payment for weeks after the arrival of the steamer in India. A real exercise of correctness and reliability…

The above is in itself just a funny story, but it clearly outlines the danger of inspection clauses. Once the wheels are in motion the shipper is in no position to oppose even the most far fetched demands. He needs to ship, and his shipment is blocked not because the quality is bad but because an uneducated young man makes impossible and unreasonable demands. On the other hand one cannot write a full contract page of possible impossibilities that can or may present themselves in the inspection phase. Maybe those who occupy themselves with the legal background of the international hide and skin contracts should reserve some space in their next edition to avoid situations as described in this Limeblast.

Sam Setter