Counterfeit clothing is for sale at more than half of the stalls at markets and malls around Phnom Penh while the enforcement of laws prohibiting such activities is exceptionally uncommon, legal experts and officials say.
In a survey released last month by BNG Legal, a Phnom Penh law firm, 52 percent of 870 mall and market stalls surveyed in the capital were found to contain at least one counterfeit brand.
The survey found that there was an average of 4.4 brand names per stall and a total of 187 different brand names were discovered to be on sale, of which Louis Vuitton, Lacoste and Nike were the most common.
“Knockoffs of many of the world’s most well-known marks—Nike, Louis Vuitton, Lacoste—are openly on sale at rock-bottom prices at markets and malls,” the survey said. “At the high-end boutiques surveyed, superior quality counterfeits, often indistinguishable to the untrained eye, are available at a premium price.”
The survey was conducted in June and July this year in four different locations around Phnom Penh, including an outdoor market described as a “major tourist destination,” a mall and two high-end boutiques.
While the survey showed that more than half of stalls sell counterfeit goods, it also indicated that 48 percent of stalls were “economically sustainable without visibly selling any counterfeit goods.”
There are also very few stalls that depend completely on counterfeit items.
“Thus, for all but a few stalls, effective enforcement actions that remove counterfeits from their shelves would not ruin their businesses,” the survey said.
Legal experts say demand for counterfeit items is rather limited and should not stop large fashion houses from entering Cambodia.
“As Cambodia becomes more wealthy, there will be more pressure from within to have more real goods,” said Liam Garvey, foreign legal counsel at BNG Legal.
“Someone who is just scraping by isn’t too worried about whether they have brands or not,” he added.
Yet knockoff clothes are widespread, selling at many different locations, part of the reason for which counterfeiting is so difficult to halt, Mr Garvey said.
The World Trade Organization in 2005 gave Cambodia until 2013 to enforce copyright laws and begin accepting patents. Var Roth San, director of the department of intellectual property in the Ministry of Commerce, said the government had adopted laws on trademarks, patents and copyright between 2002 and 2003.
But implementing these laws has proved a minimal practice, he said, attributing part of the fault to a lack of coordination between ministries.
Moreover, most vendors are completely unaware that selling counterfeit goods is illegal in Cambodia, he said.
“They do not know when they sell counterfeit goods and that they may face penalties,” Mr San said.
The government will establish two subcommittees by the end of the year with the job of enforcing related laws and educating the public about existing regulations, he added.
Under Cambodian law, a trademark owner can request a criminal prosecution for those who infringe upon their brand, resulting in fines up to $2,500 and a jail sentence of between one month and a year.
Sy Chan, the owner of the Nasa Boutique in Sorya Mall in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, said she knew the items she sold sporting brand names like Giorgio Armani and Louis Vuitton were fake.
But Ms Chan said she had no idea that selling such items—a Louis Vuitton dress at her shop sold for $20—was illegal.
“Nobody knows about that,” she said. “I don’t think that this kind of law exists in Cambodia.”
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)