“Inauthentic products can mislead consumers, deprive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists of income and disrespect cultures,” said Romlie Mokak, productivity commissioner and a Yawuru man. “Mandatory labelling would steer consumers toward authentic products and put the compliance burden on those producing fake products, not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.”
Fake souvenirs that mimic the design and arts of the Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders proliferate the Australian market, according to the latest report of the Productivity Commission. These indigenous-style consumer products use the Indigenous and Cultural Intellectual Property (ICIP) without the permission of the cultural custodians or traditional owners in violation of customary laws.
Aside from devaluing the local cultures of the Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders to the extent of using their religious icons meaninglessly and without authorization, the manufacturers and sellers of these fake souvenirs are robbing the local artists from these communities of income that’s already meager for many of them.
Based on the report, sales of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in 2019-2020 were worth $250M, but only a small percentage went to the local artists. Those who have already established a name in the domestic arts and crafts industry earned considerably high. But those who sold their crafts through an Aboriginal art center received only $2,700 as an annual income.
Artists from Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities could have been earning more prestige and economic benefits if only tourists were aware of the authenticity of the products they were buying, especially those who came to Australia from abroad.
According to the commission’s findings, out of the $78 – $88M spent by international visitors on souvenirs, 55 to 61% went to fake indigenous-style consumer products.
Hence, the commission strongly recommends the mandatory labelling of arts and crafts based on authenticity and more stringent implementation of the laws concerning ICIP so that the traditional owners could seek justice and compensation in case of violation of their rights. Also, aboriginal art centers which have been impacted by the pandemic should receive financial assistance from the government for the local arts and crafts industry to further flourish.