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Brands Still Not Convinced About Alibaba’s Efforts to Fight Fakes

Alibaba Group can’t seem to shake its bad reputation.

The Chinese e-commerce company, which launched an online system in July to help remove counterfeit products from its sites, recently received a letter signed by several global trade groups, pointing out that while the new platform is a step in the right direction, a lot remains to be done.

Ten signatories, including three from France—Union des Fabricants (UNIFAB), the French Federation of Leather Goods (FFM), and Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode—stated that “trust cannot be hostage to delay.”

“We are encouraged by your stance that ‘counterfeit goods are absolutely unacceptable [on Alibaba platforms], and brands and their intellectual property must be protected.’ And like you, we ‘have zero tolerance for those who rip off other people’s intellectual property,’” the group wrote in the letter, seen by Sourcing Journal. “But hopefully you can understand that these statements compel us to focus on what has not improved at Alibaba, over the last two years and over the last six months.”

Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), told Sourcing Journal Thursday that though Alibaba has made a lot of announcements about its plans to combat the sale of copyright-infringing goods, nothing has moved the needle on its Taobao marketplace.

“The site is still full of fakes, the procedures are still difficult to use and largely ineffective in taking down counterfeits and keeping them from going up in the first place,” he stressed.

In particular, the signatories’ letter pointed out that it’s been a year since Alibaba said it would optimize its algorithm to detect blurred images that conceal the logo, but the company has yet to put software in place to proactively spot this—despite the fact that such images are now a breach of its terms.

“So, rather than guess at Alibaba’s level of responsibility and commitment, we wish to set in motion a new era of cooperation to best harness your self-proclaimed ‘strengths in data, data management and analytics,’” the letter said.

Alibaba needs to work with the brands to outwit “determined fraudsters”

The letter went on to provide some measures that can be taken now to “fundamentally change the game” and create a higher standard for all e-commerce companies to climb to. Among these suggestions, the trade groups propose that Alibaba automatically filter postings containing such keywords as knock-off, replica or imitation, as well as misspellings or goods and models not manufactured by oft-copied brands.

A wider verification program that implements due diligence checks is another recommendation, including contact information, banking details or other identity checks to prevent illegal activities.

In addition, the trade groups said that a number of their brand members have complained that the processing of notices outside of those within Alibaba’s Good Faith Program is “woeful.”

“The delays in recognition of rights holders, the challenging of their rights, the inconsistency of application of business rules and the time it takes for removal are all a long, long way from that of the ‘world’s leading fighter on counterfeits,’” the letter said, noting that anything other than the most blatant copying is likely to remain for sale on Alibaba’s sites.

“We urge you to take up your responsibility now to provide a safe and secure shopping experience for consumers by implementing steps that your brick-and-mortar business brothers have taken before you, inter alia, asking sellers with suspicious offers to provide more information, or taking on greater risk management yourself, or gating some high risk categories,” the group continued.

While Lamar lauded a lot of the ideas in the signatories’ letter, he described several other ways that Alibaba could be working with brands to fight the war on fakes.

“We are still looking for Alibaba to incorporate an easy brand certification process, brand-controlled ‘take-downs’ of counterfeit goods, brand-approved sales, and a transparent product verification process with results made available to the public,” he said.

The Chinese e-commerce company is currently in the middle of legal proceedings against Parisian fashion house Kering, which owns Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, for allegedly promoting the sale of fakes.

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