Counterfeiting and Piracy Fuel Organized Crime: UN

By Kelly Anderson, originally posted on IP Delivers

Would you willingly hand over your hard-earned cash or credit card information to organized criminals, who sell drugs, facilitate human trafficking, and support terrorists? Whether you realize it or not, purchasing counterfeit goods or accessing illicit content on the web is oftentimes fuelling international crime, according to a new study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Yesterday, the UNODC launched a campaign to increase awareness about the correlation between counterfeit goods and organized crime. The campaign, “Counterfeit: Don’t Buy Into Organized Crime,” encourages consumers to “look behind” counterfeit goods in order to gain awareness about the true repercussions of illicit trade, which UNODC estimates nets $250 billion a year. So while that new purse from the streets of New York City or an anonymous online retailer may seem like quite a deal, it could be funding dangerous criminal activities.

The campaign describes the array of counterfeit goods being produced and their pervasive effect on society. The sale of illicit pharmaceuticals from East Asia to Africa, for example, brings in roughly $5 billion a year for the criminal operations facilitating the sale. And the workers producing the counterfeit phones or soccer jerseys? They certainly aren’t subject to health and labor laws and are often working in unsafe conditions for incredibly low wages. What’s more, the organized criminals producing and distributing the illicit goods certainly aren’t taking into consideration the concerns of the environmentally friendly among us. Because counterfeit goods are not subject to any sort of regulations, the products could include harmful dyes and chemicals that pose both a serious risk to the consumer’s health and to the environment.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov noted that:

“In comparison to other crimes such as drug trafficking, the production and distribution of counterfeit goods present a low-risk/high-profit opportunity for criminals. Counterfeiting feeds money laundering activities and encourages corruption. There is also evidence of some involvement or overlap with drug trafficking and other serious crimes.”

With the likes of the United Nations paying special attention to IP infringement, it’s clear that enforcement efforts and legal protections against counterfeiting and piracy go beyond just protecting companies from theft. There are a multitude of unintended consequences and human rights issues that arise from this lucrative form of organized crime. It is our responsibility as consumers, businesses, and policy makers to find meaningful ways to collaborate and slow the deluge of cross-border counterfeiting and piracy.

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