Crackdown on Counterfeit Cosmetics Closes Factory

Almost 30 tons of fake cosmetic products have been confiscated from a factory putting foreign brands’ labels on locally produced chemicals, in what an Interior Ministry official said was part of a monthslong crackdown on a market teeming with counterfeits.

“Fake products are everywhere,” said Meach Sophana, undersecretary of state and president of the Interior Ministry’s national committee against counterfeit products. “Just when we open our eyes and visit the market, we can already see them.”

Skin whitening products are displayed at a beauty shop on Street 63 in Phnom Penh. (Brian Leli/The Cambodia Daily)

The recent raid—which Mr. Sophana said was conducted within the past two weeks—shut down a factory and two storage facilities in Phnom Penh and Kandal province’s Takhmao city.

The factory had been producing skin care, hair care and lotion products locally, but labeling them with Japanese and Thai brands’ logos, he said, including those of luxury Japanese skin care firm Shiseido, whose top products sell for hundreds of dollars.

The ministry met on Tuesday morning with representatives of the Japanese and Thai brands, as well as Thai Embassy representatives, about bringing a legal case against the local producer, he added, though he would not identify the company.

The raid came as the ministry was wrapping up a three-month investigation into fake cosmetics production, Mr. Sophana said.

The Interior Ministry plans to launch an investigation into fake medical products, he said, explaining that it was the category of goods most prone to counterfeits.

The ministry estimates more than 50 percent of pharmaceutical products sold throughout the Southeast Asian region carry a false brand, though Mr. Sophana added that this was an “unofficial statistic.”

Mali Thanaporn Grimaud, general manager of TUV Rheinland Cambodia, a German firm specializing in testing and quality control, said counterfeits in medicines and food were particularly dangerous for consumers.

Poor quality cosmetic products have killed Cambodians in the past, including a 23-year-old woman from Banteay Meanchey province who died in the hospital in 2011 after using a skin-whitening cream containing high levels of mercury.

Some local market vendors have also admitted to making their own creams on-site by mixing a custom brew of chemicals, while academic researchers have said that the testing of products is virtually nonexistent.

Ms. Thanaporn Grimaud said the sheer amount of money spent on medical products made fraud in that sector particularly hazardous.

“People will spend more money in medical supplies at the end of the day than any kind and form of consumer products,” she said. “This is a terrible business. It is affecting our inspiration, innovation, effort and, most importantly, our health and safety.”

For other non-food products, the low prices of counterfeits made them attractive even to wary consumers, particularly those with lower incomes—or enough income to covet luxury goods without actually being able to afford them, she said.

For many, incomes were “still not enough to consistently afford to pay for original quality brands,” she said. “Fake products with cheap and easy access become interesting choices for the middle class.”

Ms. Thanaporn Grimaud encouraged the government’s crackdown on intellectual property, arguing that it would increase consumers’ trust in shopping locally. She urged the government to also enforce import and export laws.

Tuesday’s Interior Ministry comments were made at a press conference in honor of World IP Day, with government and private sector representatives arguing that the protection of intellectual property was crucial to safeguarding people’s well-being as well as innovation in the economy.

Sok Siphana, a government adviser, said it was hard to quantify the benefits of protecting intellectual property rights, but that the existence of such regulations lifted the country’s reputation among companies.

“It measures the investment potentials of a country…especially companies who have technology to protect,” he said. “These protections will give confidence to them to come to invest.”

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