Fighting the fakes
Supply chain issues have seen substandard and counterfeit goods infiltrating the market
The growing prevalence of counterfeit and substandard electrical products certainly won’t be news to readers of this article. Nor will it come as a surprise that, increasingly, many of these items are sold via online platforms.
Electrical Safety First undertakes a range of research to inform our work raising public awareness of electrical safety and issues ranging from ‘rogue’ traders to the dangers of buying fake electrical goods.
But it is not just popular consumer electrical items which are affected. There are reports of fake – and substandard – plugs, fuses, circuit breakers and cables infiltrating the market, along with other basic electrical accessories we take for granted and use in a multitude of ways.
Given the global and complex nature of the supply chain in the electrical component sector, it is the responsibility of everyone involved to be aware of the danger of non-compliant electrical products. The installer, being at the end of this chain, needs to be reasonably sure the supply chain is robust.
The vast majority of electrical contractors ensure that they always buy from known, reputable manufacturers and retailers. However, when the flow of required materials is impacted, sometimes the use of irregular or unauthorised suppliers (the ‘grey’ market) may seem like a sensible option – but often isn’t.
“The installer, being at the end of this chain, needs to be reasonably sure the supply chain is robust”
In the UK, the sale of non-compliant electrical installation products is considered a more significant issue than outright counterfeiting. Non-compliant products are not necessarily fake but they do not fulfil the essential safety requirements in product standards.
Confirming that each item of electrical equipment purchased complies with these standards is made more problematic when they are bought from a range of different sources, with supply chains that are difficult or impossible to trace.
There is also the related issue of retailers ‘buying in’ material/products which they then brand as their own – without undertaking all the necessary quality checks that would ensure the product fulfilled legal requirements.
Demand in the UK for components has been heightened over the last couple of years in particular. There has been the uncertainty leading up to Brexit, which has forced many manufacturers to increase component inventory levels to guard against future supply chain disruption – which were also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And, given the lockdown, an increasing number of contractors are now buying many of their goods online.
If you suspect an item you have bought is fake or substandard then look for obvious marking errors and typos and/or check with the brand owner. A number of websites offer useful information on product compliance – a good example is doesitcomply.voltimum.co.uk
While we always advise people to reduce the likelihood of buying fake or substandard items by sticking to stores or websites of known, reputable manufacturers and retailers, we are also taking action to address the issue.
Repeated calls for online marketplaces to take responsibility for the products sold on their websites have not been heeded. And the Government’s Online Harms Bill has failed to address the problem of dangerous electrical goods available from online marketplaces.
Consequently, we have put forward our own ‘game changing’ Bill. It would make online marketplaces legally responsible for hosting listings of potentially dangerous electrical products for sale and would ensure they have the same responsibilities to protect consumers from unsafe products as high street wholesalers and retailers.
Our technological revolution can provide a multitude of benefits for all. But with a formerly linear supply chain becoming a multi-layered supply web spread around the globe, both consumers and businesses need to be protected from the impact of substandard and counterfeit goods.
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