In a recent article for Salon, art historian and author Noah Charney documented the sale of counterfeit luxury goods (read: fake Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès and Fendi purses, etc.) in Italy. Charney notes a particular man he witnessed on the street in Rome, whom he says “is part of what is a subsection of human trafficking, not quite a modern-day slave, but not far from it. He volunteered to be smuggled out of his home in Africa to a new life in Italy. He is housed and fed, and bused into the city center, where he sells alongside a team of fellow refugees, catering mostly to tourists. He is paid, but barely, and is expected to repay those who organized his transfer from Africa to the promise of Italy, and who keep him fed and housed, in a system designed for him never to quite buy his independence.” Unfortunately, Charney’s writing is spot on.
I suggest you head over to Salon and read the entire piece, but in the meantime, here are some telling excerpts:
The problem is hardly limited to Europe. A 2004 report stated that the counterfeit goods industry in the United States alone brings in around $287 billion, which would make it one of the highest-grossing criminal trades worldwide. An estimated $1 billion per year is lost in tax revenue for New York City alone, where some 8 percent of all U.S. counterfeit goods are traded.
A lot of us buy luxury goods, which cost us hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars. It’s always safest to go to the Louis Vuitton or Fendi store, but there is a ravenous appetite for “designer impostor” luxury goods. We spend hundreds of billions per year on fake versions of what we think we’re buying, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. Products labeled as “designer imposters,” or some equivalent are usually safe, because they are overt imitations (though the conditions of the workers who produce them may be objectionable). But when we buy imitation luxury goods, there’s always a chance that we are donating our cash to the continuation of a form of human trafficking.
Buying online is particularly risky because there’s no guarantee that the seller’s photographs of the product are real, or that the product you’ll be sent matches the one advertised … But above all this, keep in mind that there are real people who suffer from the trade in fake luxury goods. It’s easy to forget that there are complex human costs involved in bringing a product, particularly an illicit one, to the consumer. Just like buying an antiquity that seems to come from Syria or Iraq these days might place cash into the hands of terrorists, the desire for a discount knockoff handbag may encourage a practice that is little removed from indentured servitude, and not a far cry from slavery.