28 February, 2020

Who is manning the machine that made your kid’s newest toy?

It is understandable that cash-strapped parents will always be on the lookout for the most affordable way of keeping their children happy. The price range of sought-after branded toys can put a financial strain on the average parents’ pocket, so much so that sometimes, going for the black market knock-off may seem like a viable alternative.

However, the reality of how these illicit toys are made should be enough to make any parent think twice about purchasing them for their kids. Apart from the more immediate concern of these toys being easy to break, the lack of regulation that characterises the production of counterfeit goods also means they are made without any concern for safety – neither for the workers in question, nor for the customers.

The danger is real

Buying counterfeit goods can have a number of negative side-effects on the economy, the most important of which being that it can result in massive losses for legitimate businesses. This is most certainly the case in sectors such as clothing, since cheap variants are easy to make and easier to hawk on various illegal black market venues.
But when it comes to counterfeit toys, the matter becomes even more sensitive, since the safety of your child also comes into the equation. Because counterfeiters operate with no health and safety – or ethical – safeguards, their products are bound to be more dangerous in many ways.

An article published in the Guardian around Christmastime of 2015 indicates this very clearly, as it reports about how a harmful chemical was found in knock-off toys based on Disney’s popular Maleficent movie. Then there’s also the more basic concern about counterfeit toys being more likely to break easily, potentially resulting in sharp edges that could be harmful to the child.

The bad guys are the ones that benefit

However, there is an even more sinister truth behind the equally valid practical concerns about counterfeit toys. The fact remains that these items, though innocuous at first glance, form part of a wider network of criminal operations that profit from the production and distribution of counterfeit goods.

In fact, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (link opens PDF file) revealed that those trafficking in counterfeit goods often have direct links to some of the most powerful criminal organisations around the world, ominous names like the Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta (Europe and America) and the Triads in Asia flagged as key players in the report.
What’s even more worrying is that these operations do not ‘just’ benefit from the ill-begotten gains of counterfeit goods by compromising legitimate industries and profiting from second-rate goods. Worse, criminal organisations usually hide behind the production of such goods to both mask and help finance other shady operations – from drugs to illegal arms dealing – since it is easier to get away with moving seemingly innocuous counterfeit goods than it is to smuggle narcotics or military-grade weaponry.

The human cost is high

Of course, one can’t expect any of these entities to adhere to high ethical standards. From the big criminal operations even down to the smallest fry among those dealing in counterfeit goods, it should come as no surprise that workers’ rights are pretty low on their list of priorities.

As long as the product gets made, these operations won’t hesitate to exploit their workers within an inch of their lives. In fact, the same UNODC report goes on to describe how some of these operations were even found to be exploiting six-year-olds to produce their materials.

How to guard against counterfeit toys

The bad news is that the unpleasant realities behind the production of counterfeit toys will be very difficult to eradicate altogether. As we have explained, there are vast criminal operations benefiting from the production of counterfeit goods of all kinds, and it is highly unlikely that any individual efforts to clamp down on them will have any long-term impact.

The good news, however is that there are simple ways of identifying counterfeit toys by customers that should – at the very least – prevent any direct harm from coming to their children. A few telltale signs should be enough to alert you on whether a given product is counterfeit or not.
First of all, if the toy is marked with a brand that looks suspiciously like a popular brand but does not quite cut it, it’s best to just avoid it. Same if the toy resembles a popular children’s character but comes with some altered distinguishing features. Also, if the package carries no clear contact details for the company, then it’s almost certain that it was made in a hard-to-trace counterfeit factory.
Using these simple guidelines should, at the very least, help you to avoid the immediate negative effects of counterfeit toys for you and your child.

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