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The fight against counterfeit goods intensifies ahead of the Olympic Games

A crusade combining economic stakes, safety and social justice

The fight against counterfeit goods intensifies ahead of the Olympic Games A crusade combining economic stakes, safety and social justice

Paris is preparing to host the Olympic Games. Less than three weeks before the kickoff and behind the euphoria of preparations, a battle is being fought in the shadows: the fierce fight against counterfeits. This silent war, waged by the authorities in a complex and controversial crackdown campaign, is mainly focused on disadvantaged suburbs and tourist markets. The goal is to preserve the image of the world fashion capital and protect the economic interests of major luxury brands. On April 3, at dawn, the flea market of Saint-Ouen, usually peaceful, turned into a theater of operations for law enforcement. Under the direction of Michel Lavaud, head of security for Seine-Saint-Denis, the police stormed in, closing 11 shops accused of selling counterfeits. Among the items seized: 63,000 articles, including fake Louis Vuitton bags and Nike shoes, all destined to be crushed in garbage trucks. Ten people were arrested, marking the beginning of a series of drastic measures against this illegal trade. This operation is not an isolated case. In recent months, the police have increased their presence in the suburbs, setting up barriers and multiplying patrols to prevent informal vendors from setting up their stalls. Likewise, since February, raids near Montmartre have multiplied, with blitz operations leading to the destruction of 70 tons of counterfeit products in March alone.

However, behind this fight against fake luxury products lies a sad reality. In Seine-Saint-Denis, one in three people lives in poverty. For many, selling counterfeits or second-hand products is a lifeline to stay financially afloat. Axel Wilmort, a researcher at the French Urban Studies Institute LAVUE, has observed an increase in the crackdown on informal vendors, with a clear intent to eradicate all signs of precarity and poverty. But these severe measures, though effective in cleaning up the streets before the Games, often do not distinguish between counterfeiters and legitimate sellers of second-hand goods. Reactions were swift. The mayor of the Montmartre district wrote to the Minister of the Interior to express his concerns about this relentless crackdown, due to the number of informal vendors seeing their livelihoods destroyed. This fight, necessary to protect the image of Paris and the rights of major brands, should it not also consider the human and social dimension of the measures taken?

The stakes of the Olympic Games, with its 15 million expected visitors, are colossal. To prevent Paris from becoming the European capital of counterfeiting, the organizers of Paris 2024 and the International Olympic Committee have joined the French Intellectual Property Protection Association, UNIFAB. This organization has trained 1,200 customs officers to identify counterfeit products, with particular emphasis on the Games' red mascot and Olympic clothing, prime targets for counterfeiters. LVMH, the luxury giant and sponsor of the Games, also plays a key role in this fight. Working closely with the authorities, the group strives to enforce its intellectual property rights and protect consumers from the dangers of counterfeit products. However, these measures have significant collateral effects. Increased repression could deter some tourists from visiting Paris during the Games. Air France-KLM has already announced a forecast loss of 180 million euros this summer, anticipating a drop in visits to the capital.

Major luxury brands, while supporting the fight against counterfeiting, do not expect an economic boom from the Games and prefer to direct their customers to other prestigious destinations such as the French Riviera or Milan. As a result, they have adjusted their strategies and are preparing to welcome their clients in places other than Paris, anticipating a possible reluctance of buyers to come to a city under high police surveillance. Luca Solca, a luxury goods analyst at Bernstein, points out that these companies are ready to adapt to maintain their sales, even if it means diverting attention from the Olympics. In short, the fight against counterfeiting on the eve of the Paris Olympic Games is a multi-faceted battle. While it is necessary to protect the image of the city and the economic interests of major brands, it raises crucial questions about social justice and the balance between security and humanity. In this frantic race to offer an impeccable showcase to the world, let us not forget that the true greatness of a city also lies in its ability to protect all its inhabitants, including the most vulnerable.