At a recent EDA Regional Business Forum in Exeter, the delegates were received with an update on the situation regarding counterfeit electrical product. Presented by Chris Stammers, Compliance Services Manager with BEAMA, it made for very scary listening.
The global picture
Counterfeit product generally falls into two categories:
- Companies making false or misleading claims as to product quality, performance
- Companies infringing Intellectual Property rights
and generally the two situations are interwoven, with inferior and dangerous product appearing to come from a respectable company because of the way that products are being labelled.
Its reckoned that, across global commerce, counterfeit product is worth over $500 billion – and that’s more profitable than the global trade in Class A drugs. We have a problem in the UK, another consequence of austerity politics, as Trading Standards resources have been hollowed-out. A 2017 survey demonstrated an average of 50% reduction since 2010. So we’re embarrassingly exposed to the marketing of counterfeit product.
The electrical industry
The UK electrical products supply market is a mature one and is open to serial abuse from the burgeoning e-commerce sector. As margins are squeezed on contract values, installers inevitably look for cost-savings and that means looking beyond the traditional wholesaler route.
The big danger comes from the e-marketplaces. Amazon, eBay and the like, that feature products with little or no oversight as to their provenance. At the moment, 90% of fake electrical installation equipment comes into the UK directly from China. BEAMA has over 2700 companies on its ‘offenders database’, 95% of which are in China. But before we focus all of our prejudice on the usual suspect, be aware that the Middle East and Africa provide their fair share of bringing counterfeit product to market.
A recent shift in counterfeit behaviour is in labelling. Product is now leaving factories without any branding, leaving the final cheat to the, possibly European, purchasers to reinforce the false claims via badging, fitting instructions and so on.
We’re talking across the overall electrical sector here, but lighting products have their fair share of knock-offs, as we’re all aware. ‘Passing-Off’ has been around for many years, though not at the industrial scale that we’re now experiencing. And we don’t need to dwell on the horrors created by cheap/fake LED panels; that situation has been well-addressed . . . though things don’t seem to be much improved.
And that’s the message. On a day-to-day, project-by-project, basis we have to assume that there is no policing beyond what we’re able to do for ourselves.
The specifier: stay away from unknown product unless you know (and trust) the importers.
The project manager: insist on samples of what’s to be installed – and then check that what’s been installed matches the samples.
The installer: at the end of the day, a completion certificate has to be signed, with your name on it. If poor product has been fitted, that’s your responsibility. If that product then kills someone – likewise. Cheap product is cheap for a reason and the knock-off companies are gambling with you. If you (and they) are lucky, nothing goes wrong and no one notices. If something DOES go wrong, it’ll be your job (possibly quite literally) to get it fixed. The equpment suppliers will be gone . . to who knows where. Its just not worth the hassle, the ruined reputation or the jail sentence.