The Practice of Knock-offs, Fakes, Pirated, and Substandard Product Dumping.
It all started when I ran out of deodorant. Its hot here, and we drink 2 to 3 liters of water a day. Sometimes I feel like a water processing unit. Drink, sweat, drink, sweat… Deodorant isn’t really an option, and I’m not talking about that namby-pamby natural stuff, this kind of stink calls for the big guns. So anyway, a few weeks ago I ran out. No problem, pick more at the store, which is what I’ve been doing for the past 20 months.
Except that I notice the new stuff is not working. Its really not working. My mom used to say that when you can smell yourself, its too late…so can everyone else. And they could. I tried everything, washing harder, scrubbing, even putting on Purell (antiseptic hand sanitizer) and still I stank, or to quote scripture (King James) “He Stinketh,” that’s me. After about three days the thought occurred to me…the deodorant is fake.
I’ve come up with four different classifications for sub-standard products: Knock-offs, Fakes, Pirated, and Substandard Product Dumping
Knock-offs – A copy of the original product with perhaps a slight change in the spelling of the name. For example Enerwizer for Energizer. I used to think it was just an error of poor spelling, but now think its intentional, as if they want you to know its not the original product. With Knock-offs, there is some assurance that the product will work, but not as well as the original product.
[Shire for Sharpie]
[The Copper Top Battery]
Fakes – Near perfect reproduction of product packaging, with no assurance of the product actually working. The intent is to fool you into thinking you have bought the real thing. These fakes are hard to tell until you start using the product. Of particular concern with fakes are the local pharmaceuticals, which the government calls “unwholesome medicine.” USDA officials estimate that 10% of the global supply is fake. Here in Ghana they have signed up with a new pilot project called “The Medicine Transparency Alliance” [MeTA – for more info: click here] to build an “approach toward increasing transparency around selection, procurement, quality assurance, and sale and distribution of medicines.” Personally, I love that line, “to build an approach toward…,”no feeling of over commitment here. the Chinese have the reputation of being the worst offenders. Every so often Ghana Customs catches a boat of imported Ghanaian cloth, made (or I should say) copied in China. I’ve heard it said that per capita, Ghanaians spend more on their clothing than any other country. The Chinese capitalize on this by buying samples of locally made and designed cloth, sending it to China to be reproduced, and then illegally importing it. What to do with the seized contraband is a problem. Ghana Customs has tried public burning of the cloth, but that caused an uproar from people as being wasteful, when it could be given to the very poor up north. So next they sent it up north, but a few weeks later that same cloth showed up in the marketplace in Accra, and Cloth Makers were rightly so, outraged.
[SURE – this is the fake one – if you look closely, the label is slightly out of focus]
Pirated – Copy of original product, but with value added changes to the packaging. Usually this is in the form of DVDs or CDs where they will be packaged with 50 other films or music of the same genre. For example one can buy a complete library of every movie Harrison Ford has been in, or the complete seasons of SG-1, Mash, even Ugly Betty. The products seem to work pretty well, although sometimes in the movies, you’ll hear a baby cry, or see a man stand up, and then realize you’re watching a video of the movie. Oddly enough if the DVD is defective, vendors are happy to trade for another. Its odd because the general rule in Ghana is that return are not a part of the general business practice. Now its just the movies and TV shows from the West (and Nigerian Films) that get pirated this way. Ghana has very strict enforcement of Ghanaian produced movies and music CDs and they even come with their own certificate stamp of authenticity.
Substandard Product Dumping – where shoddy or poorly made products are knowingly imported. For example the LG air conditioning (air con) units, that have a one star energy rating (out of five) and big writing on the outside of the box that says “NOT FOR IN COUNTRY SALES” which translated loosely means “BEWARE: THIS IS A PIECE OF JUNK.” When I first started gathering stories for this entry, this was by far the most common one I heard. A ship load of these poor quality energy hog air con units must have just come off the dock. I also see product dumping in the processed food stuffs in the stores that are already well past their expire date. I used to think it was the long journey to Ghana, or the fickle customs officials that can hold up a shipment indefinitely, but these days I’m seeing it more as product dumping. Have expired product? …dump it on Africa. Have product manufacture defect? …dump it on Africa.
It took us a few months to understand the complete lack of an “implied warranty of fitness” at both the marketplace and the stores. At one point, when I had bought and burned through several poorly engineered power strips, I dashed the vendor (paid extra) to provide a warrantee so I could bring back a defective one and he would replace it. I should have negotiated the replacement fee, which turned out to be half the cost of a new one. Thing is, he gave me the best quality he had, and still it only lasted six months. Of course it cost less than $10, and I could have picked a South Africa made one for $22 which I am sure would still be working.
When I talk to my Ghanaian friends about this lack of quality of imported goods in the marketplace, they exhibit a typically Ghanaian stoic attitude “that’s just the way it is”. When given the choice between new or used parts car parts (called “Home Use,”), the used parts are often preferred for price, but also reliability. Who really knows if that new car part was actually new, or a cheap knock-off? These things come with a drive away warrantee. When you drive away, the warrantee does too. So Caveat Emptor ya’ll, buyer beware.