Counterfeits - what do you think?
Yesterday the Birmingham Mail newspaper ran the story of a man rushed to hospital after drinking fake vodka spiked with methanol, and warned that 'consumer chiefs' feared 'other bottles of the potentially deadly drink may be on sale in shops across the city'. It told how the police seized 120 bottles of Glens Vodka from Select & Save off-licenses, in Frankley Beeches Road, Northfield, and of those seized bottles passed to trading standards officers; ten were found to be counterfeit.
It is likely that these bottles were sold small scale by counterfeiter's cold-calling smaller off-licenses', but the while this example might seem rare, counterfeiting is increasing. It is part of the sprawling instance of crime that occurs daily in the U.K, but that is so routinely overlooked. For example Birmingham City Council suggest that:
'Trading Standards Departments are increasingly finding inferior, illegally copied and often unsafe goods on sale to the public which have been produced or imported by unscrupulous businesses or individuals capitalising on well-known company names and brands, or the original work of others. The practice of 'counterfeiting' has serious adverse effects on traders selling genuine goods and is prejudicial to companies and individuals whose names are illegally applied to goods or who own the brands or the legal right to reproduce original works'
In recent weeks some research I have been undertaking has involved talking to people involved in supplying counterfeits, and in addition, a great many people I have spoken with have talked about buying cheap items online - many in the certain knowledge that they are buying counterfeit products. Indeed the manufacture and sale of fake and counterfeit products has increased exponentially over the last few years, especially given increased demand. A simple search on the internet or, for example on popular auction web-sites (which I will name here) will reveal an abundance of counterfeit products being offered for sale.
On the surface, fakes seem to be beneficial to society, especially the consumer, displaying clear economic benefit (fakes are cheaper). However, when this issue is explored thoroughly, numerous significant negative consequences also become apparent. Counterfeit goods entail direct social costs for individuals in the form of health risks. There is now a thriving global market in counterfeit pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and cosmetics, which are often made from dangerous and adulterated substances. Only last year, China gave Cao Wenzhuang, (a former department director at the state food and drug administration) a death sentence for corruption linked o fake pharmaceutical products which were in turn linked to a number of deaths.
Elsewhere there are concerning estimates regarding the number of car components which are faked, putting consumers at risk. Currently there is a press campaign running on West Midlands busses warning of the dangers of counterfeit cigarettes. A BBC documentary 'crooked Britain' broadcast in 2003 made the claim that counterfeit cigarettes had 75% more tar, 28% more nicotine and about 63% more carbon monoxide than those legitimately produced; that is twice the amount of cancer causing agents found in non-fake cigarettes.
The case of the vodka demonstrates quite directly the potential harmful effect inflicted upon the purchaser; and the effect for the victim of the fake vodka were as serious as being subjected to a nasty physical assault; likely involving a combination of abdominal pain, drowsiness and dizziness, blurred vision -indeed methanol poisoning can result in blindness, coma and breathing difficulties, and in some instances death.
Of course cases such as that are extreme, yet even less concerning fakes such as handbags, watches and clothes can have a hidden cost. Many forms of counterfeit products commonly purchased (designer handbags and clothes for example) are the products of unregulated sweatshop labour that exploits and damages those undertaking it. While this might also be true of that some legitimate brands exploit child and slave labour, they unlike the counterfeiters are not exempt from the threat of consumer disdain and damage to brand reputation does not affect illegitimately produced products. Beyond that, the state loses tax revenue as taxes and duties are seldom paid on counterfeits; and both the public and legitimate private business all end up shouldering the costs of policing, crime prevention, detection and law enforcement
Of course, none of these things are considerations are necessarily the first that spring to mind if you are offered a cheap pair of trainers or a handbag at a discount price. Indeed a recent survey suggested that 'Buying counterfeit goods has become socially acceptable, with more than two thirds of UK consumers proud to tell their friends and family that they had purchased fakes'
So here is a topic for debate, what you think - is buying fake acceptable and would you; or do you do it?