With trade in counterfeit products amounting to over USD 500 billion annually, ISO, the world's largest developer of voluntary International Standards, is investigating the questions, “How do consumers know what they are getting?”, and how ISO standards could provide solutions.
The ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO) organized a workshop, attended by over 115 representatives from consumer organizations, public authorities and industry from 26 countries on 15 May 2012 in Nadi, Fiji, hosted by the country's Attorney General and Ministry of Industry and Trade, Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
He emphasized the importance of the event for Fiji which, like other Pacific Island countries, is particularly vulnerable to counterfeiting and fraud. Examples include double labeling, imitation, incomplete information, deceptive packaging, false claims, and deceiving or inadequate measurements.
These activities are fuelled by the rising volume of global trade and e-commerce, lack of consumer awareness and information, increasing involvement of organized crime, low and inconsistent enforcement and penalties, consumer demand and economic pressures driven by high costs and poverty.
“I also need to ask, and urge you to consider in deliberations, why these goods are so easily peddled,” said the Minister, “It is not just an issue of unscrupulous companies and marketing tactics, but it is also an issue of enforcement, adequate resources, and of course, poverty.”
Consumers often trust claims and information provided by products and sales people, and assume that enforcement agencies are doing their work. Yet counterfeit products ranging from medicines to industrial machines represent 5-7 % of world trade, and the numbers are growing every year. The results are unsafe goods, premature failures, increased cost of legitimate products and a loss of consumer confidence.
The workshop explored how International Standards and good market surveillance programmes can protect consumer health and safety, combat fraud and prevent product misrepresentation.
Participants highlighted that international cooperation is essential to fight counterfeiting and fraud. They called for better practices in border protection, sharing of information within and across countries (for example, for product recalls and seizures), increasing awareness among consumers (including risks and where to seek recourse), and more transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain.
ISO standards can harmonize efforts, spread best practice and promote consumer confidence. Recommendations were made for increased guidance on market surveillance, comparative testing, and consistent classification and formats for reporting and sharing incident data at global scale.
Yet consumers must also make informed and responsible purchasing decisions, urged Chair of ISO/COPOLCO, Norma McCormick. “We must recognize that we, as consumers, are part of the problem. Therefore, it is important that we become part of the solution.”
She said the ISO Strategic Plan 2011-2015 recognizes that the advice and involvement of consumer stakeholders is essential to the organization’s overall performance and success, adding: “ISO/COPOLCO’s mandate is to ensure that the concerns of consumers are taken into account in ISO standards. We provide a forum to identify and recommend to ISO new and current areas of interest to consumers.”