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Dirty sex: Counterfeit condoms shocks Chinese consumers

2018-03-02 00:20     财经     来自:环球时报GlobalTimes

 Police in Shanxi Province recently caught villagers illegally manufacturing condoms and packaging them as famous brands.

 China's black-market production and sales chain of counterfeit condoms has existed for decades.

 Fake condoms, while cheaper, are unsanitary and can cause health issues.

A woman examines a box of condoms in Beijing. Photo: IC

When the police in Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, burst through the door of a counterfeit condom production center in a local village, most of the workers did not even bother to stop working. The group of villagers in their 50s were still putting the condoms into packages by hand, without any sanitation or other safety precautions. 

In the room, a pile of condoms was soaking in blue buckets filled with low-quality silicone oil, waiting to be packaged. Then they are turned into "famous" brands such as Durex or Jissbon and are sold publicly online or in local shops. 

According to Vista Story magazine, the ringleaders, Wang Fei and Wang Xiang (pseudonyms), buy condom packaging and unprocessed condoms separately, soak the condoms in silicone oil, laminate them on a special machine and hire villagers to package them. 

The police confiscated more than 1.7 million packaged condoms in six hideouts. But this case does not stand alone. In recent years, China has cracked down on many cases of counterfeit condom production, with each bust worth millions of yuan.

As Chinese people's demand for condoms and safe sex increases, this growing market has stimulated the development of black market production and illicit sales chains, which offer the ringleaders exorbitant profits.

However, these counterfeit condoms use low-quality material and oil that contains heavy metals, which are harmful to the user's health and may have other severe consequences. Authorities have launched several campaigns against these illegal industries.

Illicit production chain 

Wang Fei, 32, is a Yuncheng local. In 2016, while chatting online, he met a Henan-based 24-year-old woman, Huang Sha, who works in processing and sales of counterfeit condoms, Xinhua News Agency reported. 

Wang said he usually contacts Huang through WeChat or QQ, confirming the deadline required for merchandise, the category, quantity and prices. Until finally being caught, he produced about 100,000 yuan ($15,830) worth of condoms and earned 20,000 yuan as his salary. 

He sold the condoms on e-commerce platforms such as Taobao and JD.com as well as local sex product shops, mostly in Henan or Guangdong provinces. 

Production and sale of counterfeit condoms has formed a nationwide black-market industry chain. Officially, the production of condoms in China requires strict registration and production qualifications, and it depends on provincial food and drug administrations to authorize licenses. 

But at illegal production centers, in order to make counterfeit condoms, they only need three materials: unprocessed condoms, silicone oil and packaging. All of these can be easily acquired. 

When Huang was finally caught, she mentioned that while she employed local people to produce and sell counterfeit condoms, the machines to make these condoms mostly come from Xinxiang and Shangqiu, Henan Province; she also bought products from Zhengzhou's Hangmucheng city mall. 

Vista Story's reporter visited this mall at the beginning of February. In the innermost area of the mall is a 50-meter corridor with more than 40 sex toy shops; about 20 of them sell condoms. 

At around 2 pm, a few shop owners were seen packaging famous brands to be shipped to other cities. When two young men walked into the store asking for cheap Durex and Jissbon, the shop owner looked at them suspiciously and then said he did not have anything cheap, as "all the cheap ones are counterfeit."

Huang said most shops that sell counterfeit condoms in the city mall offer authentic famous brands; they don't keep counterfeit ones in the store itself. "But if you know them long enough, they'll secretly tell you they have some."

Wang was also in contact with salesmen of unprocessed condoms, and often received photos and prices of these products. Even though the Yuncheng police caught Huang's team, the industry itself might not be controlled effectively by authorities.

Public reports have shown in recent years that there have been many cases of counterfeit condom production. In 2014, statistics from the National Health and Family Planning Commission show that tens of millions of counterfeit condoms go into the market via many different channels. 

The Guangzhou-based Time Weekly also looked into the illegal production chain in 2014. The reporter searched on the internet and easily found a Guangzhou company that sells silicone oil for condoms. 

The company owner introduced that they sell "tons and tons" of oil to condom producers. However, silicone oil can cause serious gynecology diseases, and most countries have forbidden the oil and use soluble oil instead. 

The Time Weekly reporter also contacted several condom packaging factories. Staff there introduced that they can provide all sorts of packaging for cheap prices. 

"We can make Durex, Jissbon or Okamoto condom packages for a few cents each. If you order a large amount, you can also get a discount," one staff member told Time Weekly in a frank manner.

Police from Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, check counterfeit condoms that they tracked down. Photo: IC

Driven by large profits

When these condoms enter the market, the price increases through each sales link. In Huang's case, the suspects confessed to police that one box of counterfeit condoms containing three items costs only 0.42 yuan, but can be sold from 10 to 20 yuan on the market, earning them a 200 to 400 percent increase in profit. 

According to data from the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Chinese people use nearly 5 billion condoms per year, driving a huge market for related businesses. 

The Time Weekly reporter obtained a pricing catalog from a condom sales company in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. According to the list, unprocessed condoms are sold for 0.09 yuan each. A pack of eight counterfeit Jissbon condoms are sold to distributors for 3.5 yuan, but the retail price is marked at 15 yuan. 

By tracking the production and sales of counterfeit condoms, Time Weekly reporter found that most end up in unlicensed shops and hotels, and most consumers are migrant workers or college students. 

The reporter interviewed 20 students in Guangzhou where they purchase condoms, and over half said they buy them at street-side shops. The reporter then visited such shops and found most selling low-quality condoms. 

One shop that sells Durex and Jissbon condoms sells a three-condom package for only 3 yuan; the official Jissbon brand shop on Taobao sells a three-piece package for 12 yuan. 

The shop owner told Time Weekly, "These are all counterfeit items. There are many migrant workers that live in this area, you have to have a low price so they can purchase." 

The reporter also found that, among local consumers, most lack understanding of counterfeits. Many do not usually check the packaging, validation or production company of the condoms before purchasing because they feel embarrassed, are afraid of running into acquaintances or are in a rush.

Another sales channel for fake condoms is hotels. In 2014, after a crackdown on the sex industry in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, local sales of condoms plummeted. 

A Guangdong sales company of counterfeit condoms told Time Weekly reporter that, since February of 2014, sales decreased by 50 percent. "We sell about 70 percent of our condoms to local clients. Now we may have to increase sales outside of Guangdong."

China continues to crackdown on all counterfeit items, including condoms. In mid-December of last year, the Ministry of Public Security launched an action called Chunlei, cracking down on counterfeiting industries. 

Despite the effort, illegal industries are still flourishing. Police told Xinhua News Agency that the reason counterfeit condom production is hard to ban lies in the high profits involved, compelling many people to work in the industry despite the high risks.

On the other hand, some production centers rent residential houses in villages and usually sell through the internet, making it difficult for authorities to locate them. 

Wang Guohua, a professor at the school of public administration at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, told Xinhua that in the internet era, counterfeit items can be sold to a wider area which creates wider damage, and places higher demand to the government's surveillance work. 

"The police, industry and commerce administration and internet supervision departments should work together to share information in order to clean up such illegal industry chains," he said.