Fighting back against the illicit trade

2014 was only days old when Jenny Marra MSP hosted a parliamentary reception in conjunction with the SGF, SWA and Scottish Anti-Illicit Trade Group to highlight the depth of the illicit trade problem, and how strongly the industry is responding.

The illicit trade is nothing new, and the current economic conditions combined with high tax and excise duty, and strict legislation on the marketing and promotion of goods such as tobacco and alcohol, makes for a ripe market for those who deal in illicit and counterfeit goods. Through the work being carried out by the Scottish Anti-Illicit Trade Group along with the efforts of HMRC and Trading Standards, – there is a challenge to that, and last month Jenny Marra MSP hosted a reception to highlight the joint initiative underway between law-enforcement organisations and industry, in tackling the illicit trade.

As Marra herself said on the night: “Every pound spent on illicit goods is a pound taken away from those who play by the rules. It’s a big challenge: we don’t know where these products come from, what they contain or what harm they will cause people. The illicit trade covers so many different parts of our economy it needs to be on the political agenda.” Marra is clearly not alone in that thought; the reception was packed, retailers mixing with suppliers and wholesalers. Feedback on the night was that while few local retailers have been approached about buying illicit goods, most are aware there is a problem in thier area, and all want more to be done. The facts as they currently stand is that just one in 10 Scots believe the illicit trade helps fund organised crime.

That needs to change if illicit traders are to lose customers. Asim Sarwar, Managing Director of United Wholesale (Scotland) and President of the SWA, told the audience how the illicit trade of goods which have been imported illegally, or are counterfeited, were already hurting Scottish wholesalers. He said: “It is blatantly clear to us that we have a reached the stage where we need to take a zero-tolerance approach to this very serious problem.

With the support of our law-enforcement and business partners, we need to say: enough is enough.” Sarwar said that collectively, every area of industry represented at the reception could tackle the problem through raising awareness and changing perceptions. “We must influence the public not to buy illicit or counterfeit products while supporting legitimate businesses. This will make Scotland a hostile environment for serious organised criminals.” He added that the introduction of plain packaging would only exacerbate the issue. The reception also heard from SGF Chief Executive John Drummond, who pointed out that the 40,000 jobs provided by the convenience sector in Scotland were threatened by the scale of the illicit trade. “Responsible retailers are already feeling the impact of this criminal activity and we believe that now is the time to join forces and pool our resources to effectively combat the illicit trade across Scotland,” he said.

To coincide with the reception, the SGF had been invited to join the Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Group, which has been working behind the scenes to stamp out the illicit trade. Drummond added: “A vital objective of the group is to hammer home to the public that the illicit trade is not an acceptable or victimless crime: it has serious consequences for our economy and our communities.” He went on to point out that the trade could only do so much and that MSPs had a role to play in pushing the issue up the political agenda. “Alcohol and tobacco are among the biggest problem areas in the illicit trade.

The incredibly hard work our members have put in to ensure that tobacco and alcohol are sold responsibly counts for little when alcohol and cigarettes are sold illegally – criminals do not care who they sell to. We need enforcement agencies and Licensing Boards to take serious action against any retailers found to be selling illicit alcohol – their licences should be revoked immediately – and we have a genuine fear that the plain packaging of tobacco will simply benefit the illicit trade.” Last to speak on the evening was Police Inspector Alan Dron, who is Chair of the Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Group.

He said that the reception afforded an excellent opportunity to build on the unique approach developed to reduce the scale, impact and cost of illicit trade and counterfeiting in Scotland. “Criminals have no scruples, all they care about is making money and it would be niaive of anyone to think they care about the consequences of selling dangerous products to unwitting consumers,” he said. “Those involved are very often implicated in other forms of serious organised crime, channelling the money made from selling illicit and counterfeit goods into other forms of serious organised crime such as drug dealing, human trafficking and money laundering. Collectively it is up to us all to help tackle this problem whether through raising awareness and changing perceptions, influencing the public not to buy illicit or counterfeit products plus supporting legitimate businesses, all of which helps make Scotland a hostile environment for serious organised criminals.” Marra earlier lodged a motion in Parliament to recognise the impact of the illicit trade.

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