Jack Ma pulls anti-counterfeiting keynote amid backlash

Alibaba director general Jack Ma has pulled out of a planned appearance at the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition’s (IACC) spring conference after a group of members objected to the Chinese online retail giant’s admission to a newly formed ‘general membership’ category. The IACC has also responded to the backlash from its members by promising an independent review into allegations of mismanagement.

On April 13, the IACC announced that Alibaba would join the coalition, with Ma subsequently announced as a keynote speaker for the spring conference. President Bob Barchiesi explained the move: “By bringing intermediaries to the fold, we are offering our current membership a new way to work with them directly on this issue while coordinating a collective effort to developing solutions to global counterfeiting and piracy.”

However, fashion brand Michael Kors responded by quitting the IACC in protect, arguing that Alibaba’s membership “provides cover to our most dangerous and damaging adversary”. Several other brands subsequently cancelled their membership and the situation escalated when a letter was sent to IACC members – including the board of directors – demanding immediate change at the organisation and increased transparency over decision making. The letter threatened that members would discontinue funding and cease all participation in the IACC’s activities unless action were taken.

Within days the board suspended the general membership category – and therefore Alibaba’s membership – “to allow further discussion and consideration”, and provided details of a review which would see an independent firm “develop and recommend… corporate governance measures, internal controls, policies, procedures and by-laws”. The board explained that these recommendations should help to ensure that the IACC’s governance policies “meet the highest standards and fit the current size and scope of our organisation”.

At the IACC conference, Alibaba’s president Michael Evans replaced Ma as a speaker, using the forum to call on brand owners to work with the online giant: “We believe the future of Alibaba – and the future of many of your companies – will depend on us working closely together to fight counterfeits. We are 100% committed to fighting this battle. We see no path to success other than working closely with you, the brands. And we have the tools to change the way this war is waged. Together, using data and technology, we can become the Special Forces that take on and defeat the counterfeiters.”

As to the furore surrounding Alibaba’s involvement with the IACC, he decried it as “a tyranny of the minority” trying to “thwart progress in this area”, adding that “change is difficult – new ideas can be threatening, especially to those who benefit from maintaining the status quo”.

Industry comment

What is happening at the IACC is emblematic of what is taking place throughout Washington DC. People are fed up with their leaders stacking the deck in their favour, with the only recourse being a backroom vote. Many in power have no realistic view of their own people because of the all-too-common echo chamber effect. The IACC board stated that the general member category was created as a result of years of lobbying by eBay. Yet if that were the case, why did the online auction behemoth not join? And why was this category created as joint press releases from the IACC and Alibaba became markedly more frequent?

Rob Holmes, CEO, IPCybercrime

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