Consumer watchdog cracks down on sale of 18,000 fake Indigenous objects

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges Birubi Art sold Aboriginal cultural artefacts made in Indonesia

Australia’s consumer watchdog is taking federal court action against an Indigenous art wholesale company over the alleged sale of thousands of fake Indonesian-made “Aboriginal” cultural artefacts, as part of a crackdown ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

Birubi Art Pty Ltd, an Australian-owned wholesaler of artworks and souvenirs with a registered office near Brisbane claims on its website that it has 50 years’ experience in the souvenir and art industry.

Its website says it is the “sole worldwide license [sic] holder” of products bearing the Aboriginal flag. “When purchasing Aboriginal flag items, ensure they are authentic licensed products, which will guarantee the flow of funds back into the Aboriginal community,” its website says.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges Birubi Art contravened federal consumer law by selling over 18,000 Aboriginal cultural objects such as boomerangs, bull roarers and didgeridoos with false or misleading representations that they were made in Australia or that Aboriginal people had made or hand-painted them, when in fact they were made in Indonesia.

The products, sold between July 2014 and November 2017 in retail shops in key tourist spots around the country, carried labels including “hand-painted”, “handcrafted”, “Aboriginal art” and “Australia”.

“We allege that Birubi’s conduct is damaging, as it is likely to mislead consumers into thinking they are buying genuine handmade Aboriginal art when they are not. This has the potential to undermine the integrity of Aboriginal art and negatively impact Indigenous artists, including by undervaluing their authentic works,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.

“In the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games in Australia next month, with tens of thousands of tourists visiting Australia, this action by the ACCC is a timely reminder to traders to ensure that products they are selling as Indigenous cultural objects or art are authentic,” she said.

Birubi Art did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, injunctions, corrective notices, compliance program orders and costs.

Source: the Guardian

by Kelsey Munro

22 March 2018