Recently, CNBC aired Crime Inc.: Counterfeit Goods, a special on counterfeiting this weekend. It provided an exposé on the impact of counterfeiting on our world. Did you know that counterfeiting accounts for 7% of world trade and is an $865 billion industry (estimated by the International Chamber of Commerce)? How about the fact that counterfeiting funds organized crime and terrorists, like the Hezbollah? Maybe it hits closer to home if you learn that 750,000 American jobs are lost because counterfeiting leeches into our economy. Counterfeiting gets personal when you, someone you know, or someone you can relate to suffers from deadly fakes ranging from adulterated medicine to contaminated baby formula to tainted toothpaste to exploding batteries to substandard brake pads.
Our society would never publicly condone drug trafficking, arms dealing, money laundering, child labor, or smash and grab thievery, yet we quietly allow counterfeiting to happen in plain sight. Some consumers readily partake in bargain shopping for look-alike fakes, seeing no harm in saving a few bucks.
But now the truth is revealed. What Crime Inc. shows is the devastating impact of counterfeiting on our economy, our national security, our jobs, and our health and safety. The vital message of the program is to show how insidious the counterfeiting epidemic is, and how much it impacts all of our lives. This is a message that needs to be spread and reiterated in order to seep into our consciousness. We’ll know it’s doing its job if it makes us think twice the next time we consider buying that $35 designer handbag or luxury watch off the street corner.
It is true that apparel and luxury goods account for much of the knock-offs that we see peddled on the sidewalks. In 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized more than $158 million of products in the apparel, footwear, handbag, and watch categories. However, what is not lodged into the public’s mind is how these products, along with others such as pharmaceuticals, make their way into the supply chain.
In March of this year, FDA Deputy Commissioner, Joshua Sharfstein, testified in a U.S. House Subcommittee hearing that the FDA could not control the safety of imported pharmaceuticals or keep out unsafe foreign shipments at the border. In fact, he stated that only two FDA inspectors are stationed in China, a country suspected of originating a large quantity of counterfeit drugs. Without doubt, we are exposing public safety to questionable risks.
While addressing the counterfeiting problem is full of complexities, one clear step is to educate the public. Don’t turn a blind eye to those bargains on the street. As consumers, let us make an informed choice. Ignorance is bliss, but with knowledge comes responsibility. Knowing the truth about counterfeiting, would you still buy knock-offs?
Fortunately, the news is not all bad. That same knowledge is fostering more collaboration across corporations, enforcement agencies, governments, and the private sector than ever before. On June 22nd, the Obama administration unveiled the first ever “Joint Strategy Plan to Combat Intellectual Property Theft,” which included 33 specific recommendations. Indeed, as depicted on the Crime, Inc. special, customs officials, law enforcement agents, investigators, brand owners, and victims of counterfeiting are speaking out. It is not a victimless crime, and it has become clear that we are all the victims.
The best offense against counterfeiting is a coordinated defense. As government policy, corporate responsibility, industry best practices, individual choice, we need to work together. Counterfeiters will not give up easily. Neither can we.
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