Monday, March 28, 2011

The Ethics of Counterfeiting in the Fashion Industry: Quality, Credence and Profit Issues by Brian Hilton, Chong Ju Choi, and Stephen Chen

Chelsea Turner

The Ethics of Counterfeiting in the Fashion Industry: Quality, Credence and Profit Issues by Brian Hilton, Chong Ju Choi, and Stephen Chen focuses on great problem in the fashion industry: the issue of counterfeiting and the ethical issues that are raised by it. The authors delve into the issue that the problem may lie in the industry itself, meaning that it is the fashion houses that may need to change in order to solve the issue. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, seven percent of world trade is in counterfeit goods, and that the counterfeit market is worth $350 billion. Part of this is due to the difficulty that exists in enforcing the few laws that do exist against counterfeiting, and sadly most cases of counterfeiting are rarely prosecuted

Fashion, specifically high-end clothing and accessories, is one of the most highly publicized sectors of counterfeiting. There are different types of goods that can be counterfeited. The concept of “credence goods” is goods “whose quality is difficult to assess before or after purchase and use.” Credence goods are what are most copied because their value can only be determined by the credence or faith given to them by others, therefore they are easily exploitable. These items are usually of medium quality that has a high-perceived value, which can be easily copied.

The ethical issues, which come out of the issue of counterfeiting, can be put into four categories: Utilitarianism, Distributive Justice, The Moral Rights of Man, and Ethical Relativism. The utilitarian argument is the most used in the fashion industry because it points to the fact that “intellectual property needs to be protected in order to provide sufficient incentive to develop new technology and creative products.”

Actual counterfeit items can be divided into four categories: Vanity Fakes which are low perceived value products, Overruns or copies made from left over material, Condoned Copies made by other designers of fashion houses, and Copies made by the fashion houses themselves.
An interesting argument protecting the counterfeiter themselves is that much of this counterfeiting is done in countries in economic peril, and perhaps the counterfeiter has a right to make a living whatever way they can. Then what is questioned is whose moral right is more important, the designer or the counterfeiter.
The fact is that the high-end fashion goods that are being copied are unattainable for the majority of the world. But does that make it right? The counterfeits may hurt these high-end brands by disassociating their genuine products from the mass of the cheap copies, which look like them.