Introducing the latest accessory to organised crime: fake handbags

But today, at Britain's largest outdoor market near Harlow, Essex, bags in the familiar chocolate leather and gold LV monogram - an international symbol of luxury - will be on sale for less than £10.

Despite the "genuine" logos, everyone knows that these are counterfeit goods. And it is not just Louis Vuitton: copies of all the top-end designer handbags are available at the North Weald market and hundreds of other street stalls around Britain, not to mention the eBay website and others like it.

Thousands of shoppers a week buy a fake handbag, on the basis that a little harmless copying of a luxury label never did any harm to anyone.

It is this assumption that is being challenged by experts, who are warning that the trade in counterfeit goods is based on sweatshops, virtual slavery and child labour and is used to financeterrorism and organised crime.

A report by Interpol found that groups such as al-Qa'ida were using the sales of counterfeit goods in Britain to fund their activities. Fake handbags can be as lucrative as drug smuggling, according to the report.

In fact, handbags are even more attractive than drugs because the trade is low risk, with paltry penalties for counterfeiting and less scrutiny by police.

The report concluded: "Interpol is sounding the alarm that Intellectual Property Crime is becoming the preferred method of funding for a number of terrorist groups.

"There are enough examples now of the funding of terrorist groups in this way for us to worry about the threat to public safety. We must take preventive measures now."

The first Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting took place in Rome last October, when experts from countries around the world presented findings of the extent of counterfeit goods.

Nine per cent of all world trade is now in fake goods, the congress found. In the UK alone, 1.54 million counterfeit goods were seized by customs officials in 2003, an eightfold increase in the past five years.

Experts believe that almost 100 million fakes are sold in Britain every year. Fake goods are estimated to cost UK businesses more than £6bn a year.

Ruth Orchard, the director general of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) in the UK, said: "If you talk about counterfeit goods, people tend to think of a "Del Boy" market stall where you can pick up a bit of a bargain that doesn't really hurt anyone, but nothing could be further from the truth. When I started this job, I was staggered by the scale of the thing, and it has grown exponentially in the last few years, partly because of the links with organised crime and terrorism.

"It may not happen all the time, but if you buy a fake designer handbag, you are indirectly financing serious, organised crime and groups like al-Qa'ida. This is the message that we have now got to get across."

Counterfeit goods are also likely to have been made in sweatshop conditions, according to Ms Orchard. "Where there is fiddly work to be done, like sewing on beads to handbags, people will often use children because they have smaller hands and work faster," she said. "We have heard of one situation in China where people were locked into the factory for a month and forced to work to get an order out."

Research by the ACG found that the fake goods market's keenest customers were not from the lowest social classes, but were young well-off women earning around £35,000 a year. Ms Orchard said: "Saying it is OK to buy a fake handbag needs to be a thing of the past."

The fast-selling counterfeits


The real thing sells for £120, but replicas can be bought for less than £5. In a crackdown on counterfeits in Italy, a woman with a fake Gucci handbag was given a €10,000 fine.

DMURAKAMI BAG - Louis Vuitton

Among the most copied items by counterfeiters. LVMH, which makes the genuine article, employs a team to investigate fake goods sold on websites.


Popular in the Far East, where most counterfeit goods are made. Burberry believes it has suffered because replicas have become a "chav" favourite.


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

Arts and Entertainment
Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree is to be made into a series of films

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree really is being made into a film

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London