14 January 2014 The United Nations today launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the links between organized crime and the trade in counterfeit goods, which amounts to $250 billion a year.
The campaign – ‘Counterfeit: Don’t buy into organized crime’ – informs consumers that buying counterfeit goods could be funding organized criminal groups, putting consumer health and safety at risk and contributing to other ethical and environmental concerns.
Launched by the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the campaign centres around a new public service announcement which will be featured on the NASDAQ screen in New York’s Times Square today and aired on several global television stations from January.
Through the campaign, consumers are urged to look beyond counterfeit goods and to understand the serious repercussions of this illicit trade, which provides criminals with a significant source of income and facilitates the laundering of other illicit proceeds.
“As a crime which touches virtually everyone in one way or another, counterfeit goods pose a serious risk to consumer health and safety,” UNODC states in a news release. “With no legal regulation and very little recourse, consumers are exposed to risk from unsafe and ineffective products since faulty counterfeit goods can lead to injury and, in some cases, death.”
Tyres, brake pads and airbags, aeroplane parts, electrical consumer goods, baby formula and children’s toys are just some of the many different items which have been counterfeited, according to UNODC.
Fraudulent medicines also present a serious health risk to consumers, the agency pointed out. Criminal activity in this area is big business: the sale of fraudulent medicines from East Asia and the Pacific to South-East Asia and Africa alone amounts to some $5 billion per year.
“At the very least, fraudulent medicines have been found to contain no active ingredients, while at their worst they can contain unknown and potentially harmful chemicals,” said UNODC.
The list of fraudulent medicines is extensive, and can range from ordinary painkillers and antihistamines, to ‘lifestyle’ medicines, such as those taken for weight loss and sexual dysfunction, to life-saving medicines including those for the treatment of cancer and heart disease.
“In comparison to other crimes such as drug trafficking, the production and distribution of counterfeit goods present a low-risk/high-profit opportunity for criminals,” noted UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.
“Counterfeiting feeds money laundering activities and encourages corruption. There is also evidence of some involvement or overlap with drug trafficking and other serious crimes,” he said.
UNODC also noted that counterfeiting involves a range of ethical issues that are often overlooked, including labour exploitation and migrant smuggling, as well as poses environmental challenges due to the lack of any regulations.
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