Missouri Company Sentenced After Importing Chinese Products with Counterfeit Safety Certifications
A Springfield, Mo., company has been sentenced in federal court after importing Chinese merchandise that had counterfeit product safety certifications printed on the labels. GuildMaster Inc., a furniture and lighting importer and manufacturer, must forfeit more than 5,000 of the lamps valued at $1.8 million in addition to paying $43,786 to defray government expenses.
In 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection found that GuildMaster was importing lamps from China which included counterfeit labels from Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an accredited product safety certification organization that often reviews electrical appliances. Over three months, U.S. Customs agents seized 5,018 lamps with counterfeit UL marks, as well as 567 lamps with genuine UL marks that were provided to a separate company which GuildMaster was not authorized to use.
A Hong Kong-based wholly-owned subsidiary of GuildMaster was responsible for brokering the deals for the lamps and exporting them to the U.S. While GuildMaster insisted its U.S. employees were unaware of any of the illegal labeling, the company acknowledged that it was responsible for its subsidiary's actions and pleaded guilty to the felony offense of trafficking good with counterfeit marks.
The GuildMaster case provides an example of the risks associated with importing from unqualified sources. An overseas manufacturer can claim to have certain safety certifications and could even print those on the item, but without independently verifying that information, an importer runs the risk of those claims being false. If that is the case, the importer will the be the party that feels the full extent of the law when the certifications prove counterfeit. Distributors who go directly to China, and suppliers who are not properly vetting their sources, could find themselves in the same situation GuildMaster now faces.
"Even when working with familiar suppliers, it's still good to adopt a policy of 'trust, but confirm,'" said Jeff Jacobs, executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance, the promotional product industry's safety and compliance accreditation organization. "The same promotional product can be moved from one manufacturing facility to another between orders. Trusted companies should have the protocols in place to detect and deter non-compliant product, and should have test results and certificates of compliance for a specific product readily available."