Whenever I’m feeling a little uninspired, I’ll turn to a low effort information source, such as a TED talk. I decided to search for a topic I knew very little about, and I came about the above talk by Alastair Gray entitled ‘How fake handbags fund terrorism and organized crime.’
I’ve never thought twice about counterfeit goods, apart from occasionally wondering why you would want something that looks like something else, but isn’t quite the same. Or maybe the likelihood of these items being made via forced or child labour, which is a human rights issue I have prevously covered. I would never have assumed that the production of these goods can actually fund terrorism.
In this talk, Alastair explains how some extremist groups will use the sale of counterfeit goods to purchase arms and fund terror attacks. I was somewhat sceptical at first as he was being quite vague about the details, until he mentioned two brothers; Said and Cherif Kouachi. These brothers had been on a terrorist watch list for three years, but French officials deemed them a low threat after they were monitored purchasing fake trainers from China. This was seen as a ‘petty’ crime and a world away from the exteme behaviour they had previously been showing. Then, seven months later, these brothers became responsible for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris.
In terms of human rights abuses, this industry is evidently rife with them. The issue lies however with the fact that this industry is underground. Any kind of regulation of businesses or government intervention is difficult, unless the person selling these goods is already under watch for other suspicious activity.
I wanted to get a more rounded view on this topic and after a bit of googling I came across this BBC news article from 2016. In the article, David Wall, professor of criminology at Leeds University states that there’s no substantial evidence to suggest that counterfeit goods sales profit criminal activity. He’s even written a paper on the subject. At the end of the article he says:
“Policing counterfeit luxury goods is not in the public interest. People bow to the norms set by the fashion industry. High demand is an indication of successful brand. That’s the way it is. It’s up to the brand to invest in security for intellectual property.”
Now, I find it interesting that Professor Wall would suggest this, after what I have heard about the Charlie Hebdo attackers. I find it difficult to believe anyone with stories like this, everyone may have a hidden agenda they are trying to push, but it’s definitely something to consider and think about.