A group of unscrupulous traders are manufacturing and selling counterfeit and substandard products amid the coronavirus crisis.
Almost all the products of popular national and international brands including food items, and necessary medical items and even life-saving medicines are beingforged.
Due to increasing demand for essential products amid the in COVID-19 crisis, fake sanitizers, face masks, substandard personal protective equipment (PPE), spray machines, detergents, soaps, hand gloves are being made and sold in different areas in the city.
Visiting different areas, markets and footpaths of Dhaka city, this correspondent found a lot of fake and substandard items including face masks, hand sanitizers, Savlon, Dettol and other popular brand’s soap, face wash, detergents, shampoo, bleach, conditioners, cooking oil and ghee along-with numerous commodities being sold mostly by streets vendors.
Several salesmen who oppose such practice of selling forged products said that they are helpless as such fake products have flooded the markets in the absence of any monitoring or legal action.
"We have protested marketing such fake products but many unscrupulous businessmen care less about ethical business," said Mohammad Kamal Hossain, a trader at Karwan Bazar.
A fellow trader also echoed similar concerns saying that he also has protested sale of such fake products on the streets by vendors. "It affectes our business and customers lose trust on us who have been in business for decades," said MomenulHoq, a saleman at Karwan Bazar.
Counterfeit products are being made in such a way that it is difficult for many buyers to identify them.
It is known that the BSTI’s operation has been stopped for a long time and unscrupulous traders have become active taking advantage of the situation.
A BSTI official concerned also admitted that unscrupulous traders were taking advantage of the closure of their monitoring operation.
He said, "It has not been possible to conduct operations since the Eid festival as many of our officials were infected by the virus."
However, the drive of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the mobile court of Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection are being operated on a limited scale.
Several areas of old Dhaka are known as the wholesale market for counterfeit products. Cosmetics, illegal plastic factories and warehouses have been set up in multi-storied residential buildings in many alleys.
Wholesale trade of cosmetics, electrical goods, plastic products, chemicals and medicines are being run in old Dhaka worth an estimated Tk one thousand crore or more every year. These transactions are going on without the approval of the concerned government department.
Apart from old Dhaka, the syndicate of unscrupulous traders in Keraniganj, Jinjira, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Savar, Comilla, Chattagram and Syedpur are also active in producing fake and substandard products.
In January 2020, police seized counterfeit goods worth around Tk 100 crore, by conducting the drive in these areas.
Sources said the import of goods from China has been stopped since February due to the Corona crisis.
In this situation, fake Chinese products are flooding markets and streets. Especially during the Corona period, the demand for some products increased so much that now they are being counterfeited.
It has been found that most of these products are being made in Jinjira area of Keraniganj.
Besides, these are also being made in different unauthorized factories of Kamrangirchar, Nayabazar, Churihatta, Patuatuli, Chawkbazar, Lalbagh, Islampur in old Dhaka.
It was found that some protective gowns are being made of tissue fabrics normally used to produce shopping bags while some are being made of the fabric used to manufacture umbrellas. Similarly fake surgical masks are also available on the streets which usually have no utilization.
Experts say according to the World Health Organization's guidelines, it is risky for health if quality is not maintained while making PPE.
Different tailor shops in Dhaka, which generally makes quilts, mattresses, mosquito nets, and curtains year-round– are now busy stitching PPE and face masks.
Professor Nazrul Islam, former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told Bangladesh Post, “According to the WHO guidelines the PPE fabric must meet a specific standard.”
“However, if the quality is not met, there will be risk of virus infection. The so called ‘protective gowns’ made of the fabric meant to produce shirts, umbrellas and shopping bags can in no way be called PPE,” he added.
Public Health expert Dr Lelin Chowdhury told Bangladesh Post, “Buyers are facing health risks by using substandard products. The environment is also being severely damaged. Due to use of fake items, consumers suffer from skin, lung and other diseases.”
He said, “It is very unfortunate that substandard items including face masks, hand sanitizers, soap, face wash, detergents are being produced in this corona crisis. Some unscrupulous manufacturers and traders are gaining huge profit. On the other hand,genuine traders are suffering,” he added.
When asked, Abu Saeed, an assistant director of BSTI, said, “It is true that we have a manpower crisis. That is does not mean that BSTI remains idle. The campaign has been closed since last Eid festival due to the Corona crisis.”
In this regard, the Consumer Care Society (CCS) Adviser Professor Dr Abdur Rahman said, “The trend of counterfeiting is ruining the future of our country's manufactured products. The government is losing a huge amount of revenue. In order to stop these, it is necessary to create public awareness as well as strict enforcement of law is needed.”