Combating counterfeiting via product authentication

Combating counterfeiting via product authentication

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Counterfeiting, being the act of imitating, making illegal copies, or making something look like the original usually goes with the intent to steal, destroy, deceive, or replace the original.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reveals that African countries are targeted destinations for counterfeit goods such as pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages.

In spite of the gains of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), there have been concerns by some stakeholders that the agreement would lead to an increased rate of counterfeiting and dumping of substandard products by some countries.

No doubt, counterfeit products endanger health and often times result in the death of the consumer through ingested foods, drinks or drugs or by the use of cosmetics on the skin.

Other examples of dangerous counterfeit goods include counterfeit pesticides, which can be harmful to the environment and pose serious health risks to people, or fake car batteries, which can cause accidents, serious health challenges, safety and environmental damages.

According to the economic impact of counterfeiting, industries worldwide lose large amounts to counterfeiters.

These losses, according to the report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, not only affect the producers of genuine items but also involve social costs.

Unfortunately, the ultimate victims of unfair counterfeiting are the consumers.

They receive poor-quality goods and are exposed to health and safety dangers.

Counterfeit products are not only potentially harmful to consumers but also have a negative impact on the local economy and on supporting local innovation.

The World Customers Organisation believes that counterfeiting drains an estimated amount of 600 billion euro annually from the global economy; and this is equivalent to the loss of about five to seven per cent of trade in brand– name goods worldwide.

In addition, it is estimated that around 2.5 million jobs are lost due to counterfeiting across G20 economics alone, directly causing loss of tax revenue to governments, income loss to local manufacturers and loss of jobs in the employment that would have otherwise been generated.

It is estimated that trade in counterfeit goods is now worth more than five per cent of world trade.

Experts say that governments also incur large costs in destroying and prosecuting defaulters.

For instance, the Nigerian Copyrights Commission (NCC) says the country loses N918 trillion ($ 3 billion) annually to the activities of pirates.

As at April 2022, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), said that Nigeria has 15 per cent of drugs prevalence.

The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) estimates that about 75 per cent of auto spare parts in the country are fake.

While this places Nigeria among countries with the highest road accident rates in the world, the country loses N80 billion annually to road accidents due to a host of factors including substandard auto parts.

Experts attribute the increasing wave of counterfeiting to advanced technology, increased international trade, emerging markets and an increased share of products that are attractive to imitate.

However, they say that concerted efforts are critical in combating the distribution of counterfeit goods in Nigeria.

According to Dr Abdulrasheed Yerima, National President, Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME), it is to protect the society, economy and environment from the threats they pose.

A consumer, Mr Fidelis Edeh believes that due to the damages caused by substandard products, consumers must join in the fight against counterfeit products by consciously rejecting them.

“If counterfeiters must face stiff penalties, consumers must report illicit products/dealers to SON,” Edeh said.

According to Ms Annabel Nkeruem, a public health analyst, this will aid in apprehending, destroying and prosecuting the merchants and their agents.

As a regulatory body in charge of ensuring the maintenance of standards in local and imported products consumed in Nigeria, the SON is demonstrating capacity in combating counterfeiting, fake and substandard products by initiating the Products Authentication Mark (PAM).

According to Mr Tersoo Orgudwem, SON’s Director of Product Certification, the organisation introduced the SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) to ensure that all imported products to Nigeria are of high quality and give the consumer value for their money.

Orgudwem said for the international community not to assume Nigeria is creating a trade barrier; SON also introduced MANCAP for the locally manufactured goods in Nigeria.

“The world has become a global village, and Nigeria is part of that village, and we cannot run away from it, so rising from that, we have introduced measures, particularly for imported goods.

“This ensures that Nigeria does not become a dumping ground for any other country. So, if they want to trade with us, they should give us what they can use in their country.

“In line with that, we traced as far back as 2014, looking at what our partners were doing, and came up with an identity for certified product and code, which we named PAM.

“So, when a product is imported in the country or even locally manufactured, you can see the symbol on it, and using your phone, you can verify the quality of the product before you buy,” he said.

According to Orgudwem, the consumer is fully involved in enforcing quality such that before purchasing goods, they can scan the PAM or send a short message (SMS) to verify the product’s status.

Orgudwem expressed optimism that implementing the PAM would help curb the issue of substandard products in the country to the barest minimum.

He said that the target of the initiative are imported finished products, while local manufacturers are free to join voluntarily.

According to him, the programme is designed such that the product has the stamp on it and you have the QR code either on your Android phone or there is a number on the stamp on the product.

“If you don’t have an Android phone or an IOS phone, you can send the number of the product on the stamp to a toll-free code 281.

“And within five seconds, they will return a message telling you that the product is certified by SON and is good for use.

“If it is an Android or an IOS phone, you download SON PAM, keep it on your phone, walk into your shop, whether it is a locally manufactured or imported good, check if the mark is on it, scan and send the message directly to our server.

“The server has a GPRS connection to indicate where those substandard goods are. So with that, the SON staff in the enforcement unit and connected to the system will know where such products are at a different location in the various states.

“Consumers are the number one enforcement officers because if they scan and refuse to buy. It will remain there on the shelf, and the SON will be notified through the GPRS on their server, “he said.

He said the product would be inaugurated in Lagos, where goods are majorly imported, followed by Kano, Port Harcourt, Abuja and other states.

The director cautioned that with PAM in place, if any consumer buys fake products, he does it by choice and should bear every consequence that follows.

According to Orgudwem, Nigeria makes up about 20 per cent of Africa’s population, estimated at 220 million, making it a target market for every African country.

`And there is a possibility of other markets in the world smuggling through other countries because of AfCTA.

“ With PAM, if you are bringing in goods, your products must be certified, and they will be given the authentication mark before they will be in our market.

“So, if you come with a substandard product that is not certified, it will not serve. Thus, the issue of dumping, even through the free trade agreement, will be reduced to the bare minimum,” he said.

Moreso, the director called for strengthened collaboration among relevant stakeholders to tackle the issue of tax evasion and boost tax collection in the country.

Meanwhile, some stakeholders believe that Nigerian consumers were ignorant about their rights regarding fake and substandard products.

They opined that consumers need to be sufficiently educated on the negative consequences of counterfeit products and how to identify them and report them to the appropriate authorities.

Mr Kasim Ismaila, commended SON for initiating PAM to mitigate substandard products in Nigerian market.

Ismaila, however, urged the government to ensure the prosecution of offenders of such acts to deter others from engaging in the practice.

An economist, Margaret Attah, reiterated why relevant bodies should sensitise consumers to understand the effects of counterfeit products on the nation’s economy.

According to Attah, there is an urgent need to tackle the issue of counterfeiting in the country to enable local industries to thrive, reduce youth unemployment and attract more investments.

While commending SON for the PAM initiative, she urged the organisation to ensure it doesn not remain business as usual.

She appealed to SON to collaborate with relevant stakeholders and consumers to ensure effective implementation of the PAM initiative.

A businessman, Okey Chukwuma, who deals in electronics and kitchen wares, also hailed the initiative.

Chukwuma expressed the hope that PAM would bring sanity to the market and check losses incurred due to the influx of fake products.

Similarly, Miss Juliet Ajah, a business lady who deals in cosmetics, expressed joy about the initiative.

Ajah said: “I import cosmetics which I retail in Nigeria. But I discovered there are a lot of fakes of the same product which I sell in the market.

“This has made my sales poor because people don’t patronise. They think my products are expensive, not knowing that the ones they think are cheap are not original products.

“I pray this initiative is fully implemented so that some of us can properly do business and profit reasonably. Moreso, Nigerians work so hard for their money and deserve the best products”.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of SON, Farouk Salim said the organisation is working with the National Assembly to amend its Act.

Salim said it would enable SON to prosecute producers of fake drugs and other products.

Salim said the existing Act does not enable SON to prosecute culprits of substandard products to jail, thus limiting the efficiency of its operations.

“We are already working with NASS to amend the existing Act to increase penalties like jail terms to defaulters whose offences relate to lack of standardisation of products in the country,” he said.

According to him, manufacturers and importers of fake products will get fined and go to jail.

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