Shady Chinese contraceptives also found exported abroad

By Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-22 20:43:01

A worker produces substandard condoms in Shanghai. Local police said on April 21 that they had confiscated 3 million counterfeit condoms along with machines in Shanghai and Henan Province. Photos: IC

After twice getting his girlfriend pregnant, Wang Wei started to wonder whether there was something wrong with his contraceptives.

"I couldn't see any difference but a doctor told me that I had been using counterfeit condoms," Wang told the Guangdong-based The Time Weekly.

The packaging of the condoms seemed to be the same as legitimate contraceptives at first glance but those in the know could tell signs that the copycat failed to match the genuine. For example, the instruction booklets included with the condoms indicated they used the 1999 safety standards, while real condoms use standards established in 2004, the report said.

"We don't know where the rubber comes from. Produced in underground factories, such condoms, with fragile rubber and poor flexibility, may lead to accidental pregnancies and bacterial infections. We found consumers were unaware of how to distinguish these condoms," a Guangzhou-based doctor told the newspaper.

This is not simply a domestic problem, as recent reports have revealed that sub-standard condoms have been shipped overseas.

China produces about 10 billion condoms a year, accounting for 25 percent of the world's total, according to media reports.

Italian customs officers seized 600,000 counterfeit condoms at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, Vice News reported in July. Officials have stated that they believe the condoms were produced in China.

This has raised concerns about the spread of these unsafe condoms. No one knows how many more counterfeits have sneaked into shops in China and other countries without being discovered at customs.

Wholesale condoms

When browsing the online wholesale platform, run by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, the Global Times found that many stores are selling Durex-brand condoms at suspiciously low prices.

For example, a Shenzhen-based store offers boxes of 12 "Durex" condoms, for less than 5 yuan ($0.80), with discounts for bulk purchases. 

When asked whether the condoms they sell are fake, the store owner said that "our condoms are definitely real and the low price is for wholesalers."

The store owner also suggested his customers sell the condoms at various retail prices, usually between 48 yuan and 158 yuan per box of 12.

However, in Durex's official flagship online store on, the Global Times found that the price for 12 standard condoms is 56 yuan while the promotional price is 26 yuan.

According to Du, owner of a Guangzhou-based company that has been selling various brands of condoms for 10 years, the wholesale price for a box of 10 genuine condoms should be at least 15 yuan.

The Global Times contacted another Shandong-based store, which sells boxes of 12 condoms for between 1.98 yuan and 3.47 yuan. According to its website, 49,127 customers have purchased condoms from the store.

The store owner admitted that they were selling fake Durex condoms made from "different" materials.

However, "customers cannot tell any difference in their appearance nor in the rubber," the store owner promised.

Some buyers do get suspicious. A customer who purchased 156 boxes of condoms from the store left a comment saying that "the condoms are low-quality copycats. The rubber is rough and I cannot sell them."

Alibaba has vowed it will fight counterfeiting on its platform. But shady products can still be found.

According to China's Criminal Law, those who make between 500,000 yuan and 2 million yuan of producing or selling fake products may be sentenced up to seven years in jail, with additional fines levied of up to twice their illicit profits.

But an official from the Beijing Food and Drug Administration surnamed Zhang said that it is hard to trace shop owners who sell knockoff condoms and the authorities can only contact e-commerce companies and demand they shut down such stores.

Underground factories

According to Du, some people collect expired condoms or buy factories' surplus stock at an extremely low price, recycle them in underground workshops with cheap silicon oil, stamp them with brand names and reintroduce them to the market.

"They are sold in online stores, small supermarkets and sex shops," said Du.

Shanghai police busted a ring that sold counterfeit condoms using popular brand names like Durex and Jissbon in April, seizing over 3 million knockoff condoms and several machines, media reported.

The fake contraceptives were sold in Shanghai and seven other provinces including Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong and most of them were supplied to small hotels.

Police raided a small factory in Henan, which produced "cheap" products and in which the smell of lubricating oil was "nauseating."

"The seized condoms were tested by the local food and drug administration and it was discovered that they contained heavy metals and posed a serious risk to human health," Zhang Wenliang, a police officer in charge of the case told Shanghai-based news website

Flooded overseas market

Besides disturbing the domestic condom market, counterfeit Chinese condoms have also been exported to other countries.

Italian officials in Civitavecchia, near Rome, arrested 20 people as part of their investigation into a huge shipment of fake condoms they seized in July, many of them Chinese nationals.

Testing revealed that the prophylactics had been made using noxious chemicals and had not been properly sterilized. According to officials, the logo of British condom-maker Durex was featured on the packaging and on the information leaflet.

Durex could not be reached for comment as of press time.

In an undercover interview, the Global Times contacted a staff member at a Shenzhen-based company, which helps export fake condoms.

The staff member surnamed Zhen suggested that to get fake condoms through customs they should be shipped along with other products.

"You do not need to provide any certificates, commercial checks or declare anything at customs. We will finish all the procedures and we promise they will be returned to you if they are seized by the authorities," Zhen said.

"High profits and scant respect for intellectual property rights have led more people to commit this crime. The light punishments handed down as well as the loose supervision of the industry also lures people to reenter the business after being caught for the first time," said Liu Junhai, a professor at the Law School at the Renmin University of China.

Newspaper headline: Condom conmen

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