The Fake Trade

The Fake Trade, a documentary by Channel 4, written and directed by Nick Hornby (yes, the author of Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity), was aired on Monday night, 3 March 2008. It took us to see the inside of the counterfeit industry.

The documentary opened with BASCAP arranging the biggest anti-counterfeit conference, and it showed some seized counterfeit products like tea (found in Sweden, sent from US through Korea, made in China – or something like that, it’s like a tangled web when the guy tried to describe the supply chain), fake mobile phone (real case, fake components, fake invoice), counterfeit German cigarettes, and fake Durex condoms (this is very frightening as Africa was the end point of sale. Imagine if the condom has tiny hole, and is used by HIV/AIDS patient).

But one thing that freaked me out the most was fake egg! The guy in the documentary showed how he created this bizarre product, made from toxic ingredients (like gelatine, benzoic acid, alum, and others) which, according to scientists, will cause dementia for those who eat it. First he made the yolk, then using the mold he made the white part. This fake egg only costs half of the real one, especially because there is no need to keeping the live chicken.

When Bazaar magazine held a luncheon to fight the counterfeit products, of course naturally they (as well as I) thought that counterfeit, copied, or fake products are only about luxury goods. Bags, wallets, shoes, sunglasses, clothes, watches, sometimes make up and perfumes. Bazaar even proudly, innocently, announced that they set up a website called Fakes Are Never in Fashion as their contribution to fight against pirated products. But when the guy from the World Custom Organizations showed that they have found counterfeit medicine – and it’s not Viagra or Ecstacy, it’s the medicine for breast cancer patient – and warned the patrons that soon we will have counterfeit roses, counterfeit bottled water, counterfeit apple (remember he had found counterfeit tea?), everyone went quiet and became very nervous.

Yes, counterfeit industry goes beyond luxury goods. Luxury goods, such as fake Louis Vuitton and Coach purses, represent only approximately 4%of the industry. The other 96 percent is made up of pharmaceuticals, auto parts, airplane parts, electrical cords, toys, software, hardware, CDs, DVDs, books, baby formula and even alcohol.

Counterfeit industry is a large-scale business. World Custom Organization estimates 7% of world merchandise trade in 2004 may be bogus products. That’s about USD 152 billions! And the figure is expanding rapidly. China allegedly becomes the major player on this industry, and it is difficult situation since those big players’ main manufacturers are in… where, else, China.

I believe people in Indonesia always think about us (the consumers) against them (the big corporation). We think that, for example, by buying fake Louis Vuitton bag, we do no harm since 1) LVMH is very rich anyway, 2) their (original) products are overpriced just because it is a brand, 3) it is a proof that the bag shouldn’t be as costly as the original one since they can make the fake products with the similar quality and half the price, so by buying fake products we “show” them that they’re a greedy company and they “should do” something to match the price of the fake ones. We actually do a good deeds by “punishing” the greedy corporation.

Well, think again. When we buy counterfeit products, we don’t deal with the corporation – they suffer, they are the victims, just like us. Their intellectual property rights are being violated, their corporate image are at stake, and they spend a lot of money to fight this. No, we deal with counterfeit industry, manufacturers with no name, no responsibility for consumer safety and workers safety, and abuse everything from stealing the ideas to chain their workers for 100 hours a week.

L‘Oréal Indonesia faces the battle against fake products on daily basis; the legal department works constantly to actively warn the retailers who are caught selling fake products. Each division usually deploys its team to check the market, and sometimes they go back to the office with seized products. Counterfeit Maybelline lipstick, which originally is about Rp 30,000, can be sold less than half of the retail price. On paper, the finance team finds it impossible to make profit by selling lipstick with that price, even when the profit of L’Oréal Indonesia is crossed off. So the only logic is playing with the ingredients. And who is the victim here? Not L’Oréal Indonesia. It’s the consumer. Us. Our safety, our lips safety are at stake. Whatever the contents, it certainly didn’t go through the R&D and QA. Our lips can go blue, or swollen, or God forbid, could be poisonous, trigger severe allergic reaction and lead to death.

I have stopped buying fake luxury goods since more than 10 years a go; I read the report how the manufacturers employ child labors and how they are forced to work in such a terrible working conditions for long hours without proper meal and break, even fresh air. I have seen documentary about child workers died of suffocation because they slept in a damp tiny box with no window and no light after working 15 hours a day non-stop. And for what? Our ego and prestige, which are just as fake as the bags we carry. So no, if I can’t afford it, I’d rather buy some less-known brand goods rather than buying knock-off ones.

If you think that as a consumer you are not a victim by buying counterfeit goods, think again. When you buy Lancôme face cream and your face suffer from irritation, you can go back to their counter, claim your money back, perhaps get compensation. Or you can call their customer call center, write to their headquarters in Paris, and everybody will take your complaint seriously. What if you buy the fake ones? No one will take responsibility. Now let’s substitute Lancôme face cream with medicine for breast cancer patient. We are talking about life and death matter here. Lots of people in Russia died because they consume bogus alcohol. Counterfeit electric goods are as deceptively harmful, because the counterfeiters increase the profit margin on electrical equipment by cutting manufacturing costs of their two main components – plastic and copper – a little more plastic, a little less copper. t won’t carry the current, it won’t carry the voltage. So we use it once, twice, it is still ok. And suddenly on the third time our house is on fire.

In the documentary Adidas said they has stopped raiding the counterfeit manufacturers. Because when they raid and closed one down, another one will open somewhere else. There’s a demand for counterfeit products. It’s now up to us, the consumer, to realize that sooner or later our life could be in jeopardy. It’s not a matter of carrying the latest LV (fake) bag or sporting a (fake) Rolex. Soon we will be presented fried fake egg, drink fake tea, and take fake aspirin.

Scary world indeed.

The Genuine Fake Watch picture is from TV Scoop


  1. Hi Nit :),
    yeah..better the original one if you can afford it…
    Nice blog!

  2. As I’m working in a fashion industry, I know how difficult to deal with piracy esp in Indoneisa. People here are trying to associate themselves with famous brands, even if they fake, in fact they are proud of it. I think if the demand still exist, so the pirated goods. But eggs? I wonder how the fake yolk taste?

  3. A very informative article Anita, well done! The fake egg really got me 😉

    I’m not a fan of using fake stuff myself. Even though most people wouldn’t notice it, but I myself had acknowledged it was fake and that would be like, lying to myself!

    Counterfeiting pharmaceutical products was nothing new – remember when there were fake medicine ampoules being let out in the market in Indonesia and it was actually just made out of water and flour? And to think that people were injecting the liquid into their blood – they could die!

    But I can’t help wondering whether the fake stuff is in demand because people are too afraid to be themselves that they need to be and use something else to define themselves with, or whether everything just comes down to money?

  4. Apparently, The Fake Trade’s Nick Hornby is NOT the author of “High Fidelity”.

  5. Finally Woken says:

    @Julia: must be coincidence both have the same name then. So who is the writer/director of The Fake Trade?

  6. Finally Woken says:

    @Inest: sadly people in Asia think that by having branded goods from head to toe will escalate their dignities. It’s no surprise now the biggest market for luxury goods now is in Asia.

    @Toni: actually you could find those sort of people everywhere. The documentary showed a British lady carried a fake LV bag (only EUR 100), she got it someone abroad who – she claimed – has the best collection.

    @Therry: I had no idea about counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Indonesia – except for Ecstasy. Scary!

  7. I actually couldn’t find much information about this guy. I’m guessing he is this director:

    By the way, great blog. I just read it all last afternoon at work.

  8. @Anita:

    Apparently whenever a new medicine come out, you can find its exact fake ones at Pasar Pramuka the very next day!! And people still go there for cheap drugs …

  9. wow very interesting im a 19year old boi from london, who(as any1 else)
    revel in the fact i can get anything i want 4 cheap
    i didnt think bout how it was effecting society
    i just wanted to have da best jeans and shirts
    i was soo naive to think that im only cheating the brand company,

    i wouldnt use the the work fake because at the end of the day real people make it,

    the question is that why do the company charge so much? and do they do the same thing,cheap labour ?then we have it as the same deer price,


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