Jack Ma has set off on the warpath against the fakery which characterizes the online shopping sites that he owns, advocating for imprisoning counterfeiters in China.
With the National People’s Congress currently meeting in Beijing, the Alibaba CEO decided to make his voice heard publishing a lengthy open letter on his personal Weibo account on Tuesday, calling on authorities to raise maximum prison sentences and other penalties against those caught selling counterfeit merchandise.
“We need to fight counterfeits the same way we fight drunk driving,” Ma writes. “No one company can do it alone. The existing laws are lagging, failing to impose actual threats on the behavior of counterfeiters and leave far too much room for cheating.”
“There is a lot of bark around stopping counterfeits, but no bite,” he adds. “This reality only encourages more people to produce and sell fake goods.”
In the past, Ma has been accused of not doing much to crackdown on the counterfeiters which pervade his own platforms. Last December, the US Office of the Trade Representative (USTR) placed Taobao back onto a blacklist of “notorious markets” that sell an “unacceptably high” number of counterfeit or pirated goods. Taobao was taken off the list back in 2012, promising to do more to combat the plethora of fakes found on its platform. And yet, four years later, there still strangely seems to be some counterfeit goods floating around on Taobao.
While the dreaded blacklist doesn’t actually carry any direct penalties, expert believe it will harm Alibaba’s efforts to expand its services abroad, particularly into the American marketplace. In January, Ma met with Donald Trump at Trump Tower, vowing to create 1 million American jobs in the next 5 years.
In 2015, Ma resolutely refused to settle a lawsuit filed against Alibaba by Kering SA, which represents upmarket brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, accusing China’s largest online commerce company of turning a blind eye to sellers hawking counterfeit merchandise. Ma said that he would rather “lose the case and lose the money, instead of losing our dignity and respect.”
The Alibaba founder also had a rather interesting take on the issue of fakes at a company investor conference last June. “The problem is that the fake products today, they make better quality, better prices than the real products, the real names. It’s not the fake products that destroy them, it’s the new business models,” he said.
Since then, Ma seems to have changed his tune a bit. In his letter, Ma compares China’s troubles with counterfeit goods to its smog problems, accusing the government of talking a big game, but doing little to actually back up their rhetoric. He notes that fewer than 10% of the leads that Alibaba has provided to authorities have led to successful criminal prosecution as many small sellers are not liable under the law.
Of course, if they do become liable, then that opens a whole new can of worms concerning the maximum capacity of the Chinese prison system.
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat