US: E-commerce firms need to do more about fake goods

Knockoff handbag sales have grown through online stores.
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Updated 26 January 2020

US: E-commerce firms need to do more about fake goods

  • DHS considers the issue a threat to national security because of the potential danger to public health from adulterated pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as well as the harm to the US economy

WASHINGTON: E-commerce has unleashed an increasing torrent of fake merchandise upon the world and private companies and the US government must do more to address the problem, White House administration officials said Friday as they released a plan aimed at cracking down on counterfeit goods.
An “action plan” released by the Department of Homeland Security says the government will apply increased scrutiny of e-commerce, including the third-party sellers who sell goods on the major online sites as well as shippers and operators of warehouses where merchandised is stored.
It also calls on e-commerce companies to strengthen protections for consumers, more thoroughly screen third-party sellers who use their sites and take other actions to reduce the spread of counterfeit products that has ballooned with growth of online sales in recent years.
“Some platforms have put in place certain measures to guard against counterfeits,” Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of DHS, said in releasing the plan, “but there efforts are oftentimes overwhelmed by the scale of the activity online.”
Fake merchandise, everything from bogus medicine to knockoff handbags, has always been around but has never been so universally available with the growth of e-commerce through sites such as Amazon, eBay and the Chinese giant Alibaba.
The international trade in counterfeit products rose 154 percent, from $200 billion in 2005 to $509 billion in 2016, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. DHS said in the report that it made nearly 34,000 seizures of fake goods in 2018, a 10-fold increase from 2000.
To underscore their point, and the potential risk, they displayed a range of bogus goods, including a bike helmet, cigarettes, auto parts and tools and fake medications.
DHS considers the issue a threat to national security because of the potential danger to public health from adulterated pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as well as the harm to the US economy. Officials say the proceeds from counterfeit goods may also benefit global criminal networks.

FASTFACT

The Department of Homeland Security made nearly 34,000 seizures of fake goods in 2018, a 10-fold increase from 2000

“This is an absolute righteous threat that’s growing exponentially every single year,” said Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
The plan was created in response to a presidential memo signed by President Donald Trump in April that called for the creation of a strategy to rein in what the administration called the “Wild West” of online counterfeit goods.
In addition to increased scrutiny of the industry and enforcement, the plan says authorities will seek to apply fines and penalties to a “broader range” of participants in the counterfeit networks and launch a consumer awareness campaign.
Release of the plan follows the recent signing of the Phase 1 trade agreement with China, in which the Chinese government agreed to combat patent theft and counterfeit products.
At the time, Alibaba said it would welcome the administration’s work to combat counterfeiting. The company said it has developed systems to protect intellectual property and has worked with brand name companies, law enforcement, consumers and trade associations to battle the problem.
E-commerce company eBay said: “We welcome and support this multi-stakeholder dialogue and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the administration, Congress, law enforcement and our industry partners to combat counterfeits and bad actors,” it said.


Finnish-style play-based learning to provide alternative to Gulf's hothouse education scene

Updated 21 February 2020

Finnish-style play-based learning to provide alternative to Gulf's hothouse education scene

  • The Finnish approach to education is grounded in the idea of providing schools with autonomy and support and giving teachers freedom
  • Finland has a national pre-primary curriculum that is focused on holistic, play-based learning and skills development

DUBAI: Finland’s school operators are capitalizing on the country’s reputation for educational excellence by establishing a foothold in the Middle East.
The Finnish approach to education is grounded in the idea of providing schools with autonomy and support and giving teachers freedom to choose how they go about their work.
It represents a stark contrast to more rigid US and British curriculum schools in the region where many expatriates send their children.
“We don’t really want to compare the Finnish education with other systems," said Jouni Kangasniemi, program director of Education Finland, in an interview with Arab News. "But it has one of the best education systems in the world and we are ready to share our ‘secrets’ openly. Finnish expertise is one of the late-comers in the market … and it is well worth exploring what kind of alternatives we have to offer. Education systems in most countries rely heavily on standardized testing and inspections. In Finland, we do not believe – nor need standardized heavy testing or school inspectors to supervise the quality of instruction.” he added.
Among the Finnish educational system’s key features is a national pre-primary curriculum that is focused on holistic, play-based learning and skills development.
“Our teachers are professionals of learning sciences and focus on helping every child flourish. The education methods are improved continuously. There is a lot of innovation happening in all our schools every day. Students learn and are happy to go to school at the same time,” said Kangasniemi.
Students start first grade education at seven-years-old compared with six for the American system and even younger for the British system where children have entered school by the time they are five.
“It is a very odd situation in an international comparison – as in many countries learning outcomes are good, but students are very stressed and tired of long school days,” Kangasniemi said.
The initial successes of Finnish schools and education providers which have established a foothold in the region do not mask the challenges they face.
Omnia Education Partnerships CEO Mervi Jansson recalls an entrepreneurial course it conducted for 130 Saudi high school students, most of whom had aspirations of careers with national oil company Aramco.
“They used to think entrepreneurship was only for those who failed university,” Jansson said. “We took the Finnish competencies and built this into a course suitable for Saudi Arabia, we localized it. We taught the Saudi teachers, we supported them and they taught the course in their own schools.”
“I think Saudi Arabia needs to look at their education strategy in terms of lifelong learning, in terms of how to provide upskilling and reskilling for a large variety of population but also to see what kind of program they should offer to the youth that is more interesting.”
Jansson was nonetheless heartened by the positive feedback from Saudi education officials and hoped the course would be “expanded into 100 Saudi schools,” plus a potential partnership in the UAE.
Meanwhile Finnish Global Education Solutions is starting the first early childhood education center in the MENA region, CEO Antti Kaskinen told Arab News.
“We cannot yet officially divulge which country it is because we want the Finnish and host country’s ministers of education to meet first, and make the partnership official,” Kaskinen said.
“We are also looking into schools and teachers’ education in Saudi Arabia. We are holding ongoing negotiations [at an early stage] and met in December concerning this. It looks quite good … by the end of this year we will have something,” Kaskinen added.
Helsinki International Schools and its Saudi partner EduGuide for Education and Training, meanwhile, signed two new agreements to open three Finnish-based schools in the Kingdom – one in Riyadh this year, and one each in Jeddah and Dammam by the end of 2021.
Other Finnish education companies are looking forward to open in the region despite tough competition, and which Education Finland’s Kangasniemi said the Nordic government is actively involved in.
“An important part of our work is to maintain a constructive dialogue between the decision makers and ministries of education both in the Gulf and in Finland, aside from providing training on cultural and business aspects in the Gulf markets,” he said.