The fight against COVID-19 was never simple. Amidst a life-threatening pandemic, the world also witnessed an increase in the transaction of illicit goods. According to a report released by the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association, during the post-pandemic lockdown in India, more than 30 incidents were reported between March - April 2020 that involved the manufacturing and transaction of sub-standard PPE kits and related items. On average, in the last three years counterfeiting incidents have  increased by almost 20% (from January 2018 to December 2020).1  And, according to a report by OECD, counterfeiting now stands at 3.3% of global trade.3

In India, the top five sectors which have been affected the most are alcohol, tobacco, fast moving consumer packaged goods, currency and pharmaceuticals. In addition, common day-to-day items including cumin seeds, mustard cooking oil, ghee, hair oil, soaps, baby care and medicine are increasingly reported to be counterfeited by criminals.

What is anti- counterfeiting?

Counterfeiting, in its broadest sense encompasses the creation of a product which closely resembles another product.  The criminal is accused of manufacturing the counterfeit at a lower cost and then selling it at a higher cost and misleading the consumer to make money. The products may include trademark infringing goods, as well as copyright infringements. The crime  may also include copying the packaging, labelling and unauthorized production of any other significant features of a product.

The measures incorporated to combat this practice come under the act of anti-counterfeiting.

The realm of anti-counterfeiting

As pointed out by Monica Mena, (Director, Education & Outreach, Underwriters Laboratories) “Any increased demand, void in product supply, or any vulnerability in the supply chain is often exploited by counterfeiters. The crime of counterfeiting is a growing area of concern around the world. Anything can be counterfeited - food, consumer products, identities, currency, coupons, URLs and websites." This void is usually filled with products that pose a health and safety risk to unsuspecting consumers.

The diverse nature of illicitly produced goods (select categories) developed by the OECD
AutomobilesScooters, engines, engine parts, body panels, air bags, windscreens, tires, bearings, shock absorbers, suspension and steering components, automatic belt tensioners, spark plugs, disc brake pads, clutch plates, oil, filters, oil pumps, water pumps, chassis parts, engine components, lighting products, belts, hoses, wiper blades, grilles, gasket materials, rings, interior trim, brake fluid, sealing products, wheels, hubs, anti-freeze, windshield wiper fluid
Chemicals/pesticidesInsecticides, herbicides, fungicides, non-stick coatings
Consumer electronics  Computer components (monitors, casing, hard drives), computer equipment, webcams, remote control devices, mobile phones, TVs, CD and DVD players, loudspeakers, cameras, headsets, USB adaptors, shavers, hair dryers, irons, mixers, blenders, pressure cookers, kettles, deep fryers, lighting appliances, smoke detectors, clocks
Electrical components  Components used in power distribution and transformers, switchgears, motors and generators, gas, and hydrau- lic turbines and turbine generator sets, relays, contacts, timers, circuit breakers, fuses, distribution boards and wiring accessories, batteries
Food, drink and agricultural products  Fruit (kiwis), conserved vegetables, milk powder, butter, ghee, baby food, instant coffee, alcohol, drinks, candy/sweets, hi-breed corn seeds  
PharmaceuticalsMedicines used for treating cancer, HIV, malaria, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, cardiovas- cular disease, obesity, infectious diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, prostate disease, erectile dysfunction, asthma and fungal infections; antibiotics, antipsychotic products, steroids, anti inflammatory tablets, pain killers, cough medicines, hormones, and vitamins; treatments for hair and weight loss.
Toiletry and other household productsHome and personal care products, including shampoos, detergents, fine fragrances, perfumes, feminine protec- tion products, skin care products, deodorants, toothpaste, dental care products, shaving systems, razor blades; shoe polish; non-prescription medicine
TobaccoCigarettes, cigars, and snuff.

Impact of counterfeiting

Environmental impact

In the absence of regulation, the production of counterfeit goods can present particular challenges to the environment. Toxic dyes and chemicals disposed off unlawfully, and unregulated air pollution are some of ways that counterfeiting could contribute to environmental harm. The disposal of counterfeits is a worrying issue. Seized counterfeit electronics with their unknown components, can be very difficult to dispose in environmentally friendly ways.2

Labour exploitation

Counterfeiters will often employ the most vulnerable in society such as children without providing adequate pay or working conditions. 

Health and safety impacts

Counterfeit goods and fraudulent medicines pose a serious risk to public health and safety. With no legal regulation and very little recourse, consumers are at risk with unsafe and ineffective products.2

Professionals in anti - counterfeiting fields

Monica Mena mentions "Counterfeiting is not just a vertical area of focus. It spans horizontally and can intersect with different parts of our lives.  Therefore any area of study or research, including engineers, chemists, pharmaceutical researchers and environmental and sustainability scientists who can test the counterfeits and how they affect our air quality and environments are very important in fully understanding the dangers they pose.  Other professionals can also shed light on this pervasive offense including supply chain investigators, criminologists, law enforcement officials, intellectual property attorneys, sociologists, marketing researchers—the list goes on.  All that is needed is an interest in fighting this crime and a strategic approach on how your unique skills and experience will approach it."

Women in anti - counterfeiting fields

There is unavailability of data with respect to professionals in anti-counterfeiting fields. However, there exists great intersectionality in STEM fields and the anti-counterfeiting fields, so an understanding of under representation of women could be expected. As stated by Monica Mena "as the interest grows, the number of professions involved in the fight increases. I see increasing numbers of female researchers, female marketing professionals, as well as data analytic professionals who inform the public with data.  I am confident that the number of women in the field is increasing."

Way forward

E-commerce has exploded in recent years, bringing with it a boom in counterfeit as well. Counterfeits are infiltrating even the largest, most popular platforms at alarming rates. Counterfeit goods generate over $250 billion a year for criminal enterprises, and their purchase could be funding other more sinister organized criminal activities. Not only do counterfeit goods raise several ethical concerns such as labour exploitation and environmental impact, but they can be harmful and potentially dangerous to consumers.4

Even with the collaboration of governments and law enforcement, consumers are an important partner in the fight against counterfeiting.As pointed out by Monica Mena, "the amount of fake products can be overwhelming which is why our Be Safe Buy Real, consumer education campaign, educates shoppers on how to purchase goods from reputable suppliers and to always be careful if the price of a product seems extremely low."

Bibliography

  • "20% Rise in Counterfeiting Incidents in Three Years." Https://www.printweek.in. Accessed November 11, 2021. https://www.printweek.in/Features/20-rise-in-counterfeiting-incidents-in-three-years-55151.
  • Authentication Solution Providers' Association (ASPA). Accessed November 11, 2021. https://www.aspaglobal.com/pre_upload/nation/1623216858-4730baa0efdb83aba174859af0a3a6a5-Report%20The%20State%20of%20Counterfeiting%20in%20India%202021.pdf.
  • OECD. Accessed November 11, 2021. https://www.oecd.org/sti/ind/2090589.pdf.
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed November 11, 2021. https://www.unodc.org/documents/counterfeit/FocusSheet/Counterfeit_focussheet_EN_HIRES.pdf.