The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has seized 1.2 million Royal Philips-branded light bulbs declared substandard because they failed to meet the durability and output specifications stated by their makers.
The bulbs, estimated to be worth Sh50 million, were seized from one of the 13 companies that import the products following persistent consumer complaints on social media.
Kebs managing director Charles Ongwae said the distributor had been given a fortnight to defend himself before the substandard bulbs are destroyed.
“Samples were drawn from the distributor’s enterprises and laboratory analysis found that they did not meet life and light output standards that are important parameters for bulbs,” Mr Ongwae said, adding that the distributor has 14 days to appeal to the Standards Tribunal with evidence of compliance “failure to which the bulbs will be destroyed in accordance with the Standards Act.”
Philips, a widely popular electronics brand in Kenya, manufactures a range of products, including dry irons, kettles, blenders, baby bottles and lighting products such as TLD (tubes), starters and energy saving lamps.
The company’s Nairobi-based subsidiary has contracted a number of local firms to import and distribute its range of bulbs in Kenya.
It is one of the distributors that is being accused of shipping in and dealing in inferior quality products, effectively short-changing customers and putting their lives at risk through use of goods whose safety cannot be guaranteed.
Mr Ongwae said 13 companies imported Philips brand of bulbs in the past one year, having sourced them from different factories around the world.
“We are investigating the country of origin and other details of the consignment for purposes of further action. We are in the process of sampling the affected brand from other distributors to determine compliance,” he said.
Counterfeit products are deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect to their identity or source for purposes of hoodwinking buyers into believing that they are purchasing legitimate goods.
Substandard goods on the other hand do not meet the scientific specifications set at the manufacturing point and as a result could prove ineffective and dangerous to users.
Such goods may be borne of negligence, human error and deployment of insufficient human as well as production resources mostly to cut costs.
Counterfeiting, however, remains the biggest source (about 90 per cent) of substandard goods throughout the world.
Bulb counterfeiters place cheap components, including the segment that regulates electrical voltage into the lamps, cutting short the lifespan of the products.
Poor quality products are known to be hazardous mostly because they have not been subjected to quality assurance testing at the manufacturing point.
Kebs is accusing the Philips importer of dealing in substandard goods that are not necessarily counterfeit.
The Philips office in Nairobi said it was committed to providing high quality and safe products to all consumers and that it was working with the standards regulator to deal with the unscrupulous agents.
Kenya’s counterfeiting and substandard goods menace has continued to grow, causing unfair competition in the market and denying the country billions of shillings in tax revenues.
More recently, companies such as batteries maker Eveready have been forced to stop manufacturing in Kenya because of unfair competition from counterfeits.
The Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) estimates that the Kenyan economy loses approximately Sh70 billion to counterfeits every year, including Sh19 billion in tax revenues. Electronics, cables, pharmaceuticals and mobile phone handsets top the list of products that are heavily counterfeited in the Kenyan market.
Hard to detect
The substandard goods menace, which involves hard-to-trace modifications such as irregularly reducing the volume of product ingredients or quality of components, is harder to detect and its economic impact difficult to quantify.
In April 2015, Kebs destroyed substandard goods worth Sh37 million even as it called on Kenyans to interrogate the quality of goods they buy from retail outlets countrywide.
The bureau in February incinerated Sh20.7 million worth of substandard goods, including electronic household appliances, building material, syringes, and motorcycle tubing among others.
A month later, in Kisumu, the agency burned similar goods worth Sh5 million, exposing the gravity of the menace throughout the country.
Philips in October 2014 launched a product verification system to help African consumers distinguish counterfeits and chose Nairobi as its launch pad.
The drive, dubbed ‘Buy Original’, was to help Philips customers identify authentic appliances and lighting products in the wake of rampant counterfeiting.
Buyers are required to scratch and send 16-digit codes on lighting products to a free toll number to verify their authenticity. The company also promised to include special holographic stickers on the product packaging.
“While there are no reliable industry-wide statistics on the extent of counterfeiting menace in Kenya, we know from market feedback that this issue is very severe,” a company representative said during the system’s launch.
Philips said more than half of the products bearing its brand name in the Nigerian market are fake — illustrating the pervasive nature of the counterfeiting said to be worth 2.5 per cent of global trade.
Unlike counterfeiting, consumers need to be really keen to identify substandard goods since verification processes may return the all-clear but the products disappoint during use.