Let us safeguard consumers from illicit trade

By Phyllis Wakiaga

Illicit trade is a longstanding issue, growing in scope and magnitude and derailing economic development. It not only threatens the welfare of consumers but also erodes the market share of genuine manufactured products, threatens the expansion of industries, and hampers the creation of job opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the fight against illicit trade and counterfeiting. It has enabled unscrupulous traders to take advantage of innocent and unaware consumers, who have embraced e-commerce.

E-commerce is one of the ways of enhancing market access for local industry. It creates a platform for consumers to buy goods, amidst the measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, with the benefits that come with e-commerce, came increased sale of counterfeit goods.

The deep penetration of mobile and internet access, and the ever-increasing use of social media platforms, has seen a surge in the online purchase of products and services, some of which is counterfeit. This is a threat to the sustainability of the fight against illicit trade, which KAM has continued to strive for.

In some instances, e-commerce, has left innocent consumers vulnerable and exposed to the mercy of unscrupulous online traders. The traders promise to offer attractive, mostly cheap deals to consumers, who are unable to scrutinize the quality and genuineness of the products and end up being supplied with counterfeit goods. Online sales have made counterfeiting harder to detect as consumers are unable to interact with and interrogate products before actual purchase.

Such purchases end up hurting the market share of genuine products. On the other hand, the genuine manufacturer’s reputation is negatively impacted on due to the bad consumer experiences. Some may even be forced to pull out of popular e-commerce sites altogether.

Additionally, counterfeit goods are a danger to public health and safety. In some cases, they may cause harmful, and sometimes fatal, consequences for the unsuspecting buyer. For instance, counterfeit skincare and beauty products may lead to long-term health effects, on the user. Counterfeit medicines could lead to poisoning, or overdosing. In the planting season, some farmers have been sold fake seeds and fertilizer, thus threatening the country’s vision to achieve food and nutrition security.

In adherence to Kenyan standards, every product ought to be traced to the source, (where it has been manufactured) as a guarantee to the consumers that they can lodge a complaint in cases where the product does not live up to its standards or meet the customer’s needs and expectations. Notably, consumers unknowingly buy counterfeit products that have been manufactured in unlicensed, unregulated, uninspected, and unsanitary locations.

It is for this reason that KAM continues to work with Government to create awareness among consumers on counterfeit products in the market. By working with institutions such as Anti-Counterfeit Authority (ACA), our goal is to see that members of the public are well informed, so that they may purchase genuine goods and consequently, enjoy value for their hard-earned money.

The theme for this year’s World Anti-Counterfeit Day is “Safeguarding the health and safety of consumers by combating trade in counterfeit products.”

It has come at a time when the world is focusing on the health and safety of the population, during the coronavirus pandemic. It aims to advance the critical role of consumers in combating counterfeiting, by empowering them with intellectual property knowledge that shall enable them to make informed decisions. Eventually, give assurance to the quality and genuineness of any consumer products during the process of acquisition and use of various products in the market.

Additionally, KAM advocates for the need for interagency collaboration, coordination, and cooperation among both the national enforcement institutions that are mandated to combat various forms of illicit trade.

Last year, we launched the Harmonized Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the Inspection, Verification and Clearance of Imports at the Points of Entry in Kenya, as part of our initiatives to ensure efficiency and accountability in the clearance of imported goods at the ports of entry. KAM also partnered with the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) to develop an Enforcement Manual to Combat Illicit Trade in Kenya, which serves as a quick reference point on matters illicit trade including protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

We also published the 2020 Practitioners Guide for Enforcement Officers on Combating Illicit Trade, which summarizes the contents of the Enforcement Manual for use by enforcement officers, practitioners and the general public in the fight against illicit trade. It is an easy reference tool that highlights the various forms of illicit trade in Kenya; the national, regional and international laws relating to illicit trade; the procedures for the investigation and prosecution of illicit trade; the institutions involved in combatting illicit trade; and various checklists to be used by investigators, prosecutors and judicial officers in the performance of their duties.

As an Association, we continue to champion advocacy work geared towards sustaining the fight against illicit trade. This will drive overall economic development, protect local industry form unfair competition posed by illicit goods in the market and ultimately, safeguard innocent consumers by ensuring their health and safety.

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Global Compact Network Kenya Board Chair. She can be reached at ceo@kam.co.ke.

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