Fashion Industry Study Reveals Dangerous Chemicals, Heavy Metals in Counterfeit Products

March 23, 2022 | WASHINGTON, D.C.
The American Apparel & Footwear Association has unveiled a study that highlights the dangers that counterfeit goods - flooding the market - present for consumers. AAFA worked with Intertek, a highly respected international total quality assurance provider to test counterfeit products for a range of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals. Today, AAFA releases a summary of findings from the laboratory review. 

Of the 47 counterfeit products tested – including clothing, footwear, and other accessories – 17 products (or 36.2 percent) failed to comply with U.S. product safety standards. 

"The products that failed our study contained dangerous levels of arsenic, cadmium, phthalates, lead, and more that have been shown to cause adverse health outcomes. Even small amounts can pose significant health risks,” said AAFA president and CEO Steve Lamar.

“AAFA and our members are dedicated to protecting consumers, defending American intellectual property, building American jobs, and safeguarding workers around the globe. Our members go above and beyond to protect the health and safety of our consumers by ensuring their products are safe. Counterfeits put all that at risk, harming consumers, hurting companies, and destroying jobs.

“There is a truly astounding prevalence of unsafe counterfeits showing up every minute of every day across even the most trusted e-commerce and social media platforms. That’s why AAFA is working with Congress and U.S. government agencies – including the U.S. Trade Representative, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and more – to sound the alarm and develop effective policies to raise public awareness, improve tools in the fight against illicit and counterfeit goods, and hold e-commerce and social media platforms responsible.”

The chemicals and metals identified in the AAFA study raise significant health concerns for consumers:

- Arsenic is recognized by the World Health Organization as one of 10 chemicals of major public health concern. It is carcinogenic and has been shown to cause adverse outcomes to pregnant women and their babies. Exposure in utero and in early childhood has been linked to increases in mortality in young adults due to multiple cancers, lung disease, heart attacks, and kidney failure. Numerous studies have demonstrated negative impacts of arsenic exposure on cognitive development, intelligence, and memory.  

- Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health and cause well-documented adverse effects. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children and even small amounts of lead in blood have been shown to negatively affect a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention and academic achievement.  

Many phthalates have been found to be endocrine disruptors that could adversely affect children’s health. They have been linked to heart disease, early death, and hormone disruption. Further, the National Research Council has concluded that prenatal exposure to certain phthalates could cause harm in utero.

- According to the World Health Organization, cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that causes damage to kidneys, bones, and respiratory systems and is defined as a human carcinogen. A single accessory tested as part of AAFA’s study demonstrated 600 times over the exposure limit of this substance.

All of the hazardous chemicals found in the tested counterfeit products are listed in the AAFA Restricted Substances List (RSL). For more than 15 years, AAFA has been publishing and regularly updating the AAFA RSL, an open-industry resource and trusted tool that lists all banned and restricted chemicals and substances for finished apparel, footwear, accessories, and home textile products. The RSL identifies the most restrictive regulations worldwide for each substance. The report also offers an Appendix on Reporting that covers the U.S. states whose laws require reporting of chemicals in children’s products as well as European reporting rules. The 22nd edition of the RSL, released in May 2021, covers 12 categories with more than 250 chemicals. The RSL can be accessed as both PDF and Excel.

AAFA advocates for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR); builds awareness of the dangers of counterfeits to businesses, consumers, workers, and the environment; and educates the industry on how to overcome shared challenges that cause lost sales and irreparable damage to brand reputation. 

AAFA supports two complementary bills currently in front of Congress to combat counterfeits - The SHOP SAFE Act and the INFORM Consumers Act. Both bills are bicameral, bipartisan, and have generated a wide range of support. Without SHOP SAFE, e-commerce platforms are not held liable for selling counterfeit clothes, shoes, and accessories that threaten the health and safety of consumers. SHOP SAFE targets illegitimate sellers; it does not target small businesses or individual sellers as the bill includes an exemption specifically for small or personal sales. Without INFORM, law enforcement lacks vital tools to go after criminals. Both SHOP SAFE and INFORM are needed just as brands need the partnership of platforms and law enforcement to address the proliferation of counterfeits on e-commerce and social media platforms.