Governments, police forces and international trading standards officers across the globe are involved in a continuing and increasingly difficult battle to stop the production of counterfeit goods. They confiscate equipment, fine manufacturers and seize fake goods for destruction.
Between April and August 2006, anti counterfeiting raids supported by BEAMA Installation (representing the manufacturers whose products are targeted) and electrical safety experts ASTA BEAB (who provide testing and assessment of suspect goods) seized over 220, 000 items of fake switchgear and over 210,000 electrical wiring accessories all purporting to be products from a dozen electrical wiring accessory brand leaders. More worryingly they also seized over 50,000 pieces of fake packaging. This addition is particularly important as purchasers often use the presence of packaging as a barometer of the genuine nature of the product. These figures bring the haul to a staggering total of over 10,000,000 items seized over the last 10 years – just through the activity of this particular group alone. Countless other similar raid programmes are being conducted by other authorities and the extent of their seizures can only be guessed at – but through combined efforts, the likely street value of these counterfeits runs into many millions of pounds.
So what are the implications of counterfeit wiring accessories?
Apart from the fact that any counterfeiting activity is essentially theft from genuine manufacturers, the use of counterfeit electrical goods (which are commonly made from inferior materials and are almost never tested for safety) can lead to critical failures of installations, fire, personal injury and possibly even death. Counterfeit electrical products potentially have a number of victims including:
1) The user who can be injured or killed through their use.
2) Electrical installers and contractors have a responsibility to supply safe products – and will face liability accusations if an installation fails or is unsafe and will be recalled to rectify any issues with it.
3) The manufacturer who creates a product that is copied - losing them financial revenue, brand respect and who may face litigation if fake product with their branding causes damage to person or property.
With counterfeiting making such a huge financial impact on their businesses and potentially putting everyone in their supply chains in a position of liability, what are manufacturers doing to tackle the problem and how are their efforts assisting specifiers and contractors to ensure the products they purchase are genuine?
Some manufacturers are beginning to ensure the branding information on their products is physically moulded into the surface of the item rather than using stick-on labels. This is difficult to copy without specific tooling equipment and is almost impossible to remove from original products. Many are also working with their distributors and stockists to prevent fake goods getting into the supply chain, by tracking consignments issued and received. A significant number of manufacturers have also chosen to secure third party certification for their products, which requires among other things - ongoing product surveillance and assessment of factory and shop samples that also help to identify fake product. The certification route also gives them compelling evidence of the due diligence in regard to safety that has been applied to the genuine products should they ever face a legal challenge of liability.
These actions have obviously made a significant impact on the counterfeiters’ activities and doubtless prevented large numbers of electrical safety hazards in homes and premises caused through the use of fake wiring accessories. But electrical contractors and installers share the responsibility with manufacturers for supplying safe goods. In response to this obligation, many professionals in the electrical industry are already supporting the manufacturers anti-counterfeiting activities and checking for counterfeit goods as part of their best practice, but some still don’t. They assume that all products are genuine, which may put them in a position of liability.
It is impossible to completely eliminate the chance of being caught out by counterfeit goods, but some simple common-sense rules can help minimise your chances:
- Opting to use proven, tested/certified products where possible (many manufacturers will list product certifications or testing in their product catalogue information)
- Where certifications aren’t readily available, purchasing products from trusted brand names from reputable sources can help, rather than choosing lesser-known products from cheaper, less familiar sources.
- Getting a feel for the build quality, weight and materials used in genuine products through day-to-day handling of an electrical wiring accessory can help you spot a fake
- If in doubt as to the legitimate nature of a product, checking with the manufacturer (or their appointed representative) is always worthwhile. Also where reference is made to a third party approval, this can be readily checked by the specific Approval Body. It could help identify counterfeit goods and save you supplying an inferior copy that could create risks for your clients.
About ASTA BEAB
ASTA BEAB Certification Services are world-respected experts in electrotechnical product safety. They certify hundreds of electrical products every year and are often asked to provide expert advice and product safety assessment to enforcement officers from Trading Standards. They work closely with several key industry bodies, in particular BEAMA Installation, to support anti-counterfeiting activities in key manufacturing regions.