Monday, July 02, 2007


You swore that you'd never do it. But, while you're on a trip to mainland China, your tour guide has taken your group to a spot where you can buy products that are clearly made to look like designer goods ... but aren't. $200 "designer" handbags go for $25. Those pricey fountain pens you love, but can hardly afford, sell for only $4. They're fakes, of course, but they look exactly like the real thing.

You know that the knock-offs are illegal, but more than half the people in your group are loading up on them. One fellow buys a "designer" suitcase to lug home all the stuff he's bought. You know members of other tour groups before yours, and they've had no trouble bringing such products home.

You're really tempted by that $4 fountain pen, knowing that the real thing would run at least $350 back home. Would you buy one little something for yourself? And maybe something for a loved one? And a friend? Or would you absolutely stick to your guns and buy nothing?

Send your thoughts to or post them here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, your hometown and state or province. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.


Anonymous said...

When traveling in the Public Republic of China,it may be tempting to purchase items which are fake imitations of either North American or European products for much lower prices.

The purchases of these imitation products,e.g. designed hand bags,fountain pens will be unacceptable to me. Experts here in North America can very quickly identify the fake from the real products and that alone will embarrass the owner of the items purchased in China.

In addition,the poorer quality of these "look alike" product will match the low prices as well and the old familiar saying will once again apply: "Buyer beware".

Bert Hoogendam
Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
(Reader of The London Free Press London, Ontario)

Anonymous said...

Every sale of a fake means the buyer participates in a crime. This is a simple issue: the design is stolen. The buyer of stolen items is complicit in the crime. No grey areas here. The choices are simple.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why people support this phoney trade.It's like buying a Kit car,the outside looks like a Ferrari,but underneath is your old VW.You're only fooling yourself more than anyone else.A $4 pen is a $4 pen.when you pay $350 for one,it most likely comes with a receipt and guarantee of quality.When the copycat pen leaves an ink stain on your knock-off Hugo Boss suit,you'll know you got what you paid for.

D Alexander
Windsor Star Reader

Anonymous said...

Ethical conduct requires legal conduct unless some higher value is involved.

A pen for a "steal" is not such a higher value.

Helping the locals to feed their family might be such a higher value.

That our society values one bag with a handle over another bag with a handle because of the brand name is another issue.