China exposed hijacking iconic Aussie Made logo

 

Plush Aussie koala and kangaroo toys sold under the iconic "Australian Made" label have actually been made in China and shipped to Sydney where their tags are swapped.

News.com.au can exclusively reveal that a large scale manufacturer of so-called Australian toys actually has them manufactured near Shanghai and imports them by the container load.

Then, at a secret warehouse in southwestern Sydney, the "Handcrafted in China" tags are removed and replaced with the iconic green and gold Australian Made tags.

Exclusive video filmed inside the warehouse four years ago shows a worker swapping the tags, and the space stacked to the ceiling with boxes of the imported toys.

A special news.com.au investigation has tracked the latest shipment of toy koalas and kangaroos which arrived on January 22 this year in a container aboard the Chinese ship YM Wealth.

Port Botany sources confirmed the container, which news.com.au filmed being unloaded at the manufacturer's southwestern Sydney warehouse, sailed from Shanghai, China on January 1 via Taiwan and Melbourne to Sydney.

A former worker at the toy warehouse told news.com.au that the Australian Made tags she attached to the toys were also fake, and manufactured in China and imported with the Chinese toys.

The famous logo with a stylised yellow kangaroo against a green background on a triangular-shaped tag is an internationally trusted brand meant only for locally made goods.

Video filmed last month obtained by news.com.au shows the Chinese-Australian man who runs the toy business and his staff unpacking a container load four days before Australia Day.

They are the same boxes with the company's name, Autong, on the side with "Made in China" on the box.

In earlier footage taken last November, the company's director can be seen unpacking the boxes and large koala toys stacked high inside the shipping container.

Koala with Chinese tag (left) and same model with the Australian Made tag (right). Picture: GJ
Koala with Chinese tag (left) and same model with the Australian Made tag (right). Picture: GJ

 

The Chinese tag (left) is removed and replaced with a ‘Made in Australia’ tag (right). Picture: GJ
The Chinese tag (left) is removed and replaced with a ‘Made in Australia’ tag (right). Picture: GJ

The company importing the Chinese toys is registered with Australian Made, and a former worker at the warehouse said the business had seen sales got "through the roof" when it began marketing toys with the label.

Prior to that, Chinese-made toys with "Manufactured in China" labels did not sell as well.

News.com.au has tracked down the Chinese-made toys, sporting Australian Made labels, for sale at tourist and souvenir shops in Victoria and NSW.

These include an outlet recommended by the NSW Government.

Under the Australian Made rules, the symbol can only be used for goods substantially made in Australia.

The Australian Made tags are also imported from China. Picture: GJ.
The Australian Made tags are also imported from China. Picture: GJ.

 

The Chinese tag is removed.
The Chinese tag is removed.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the business in southwestern Sydney received a container load each fortnight packed with thousands of the Chinese-made toys.

The business Oz Natives, also known as Autong Trading Pty Ltd is registered in both names with the Australian Securities & Investment Commission.

Wei Qing "William" Zhang, 54, who was born in Shanghai, is the sole director of both companies and employs two to three relatives to work for him.

They could be seen driving around this week with the latest "Made in China" boxes in a white van after they were delivered to the Lansvale warehouse in a container on January 22.

News.com.au can reveal the container, which belongs to the Huizhou Pacific Container Company Ltd. arrived at Port Botany container terminal late on January 20.

It was discharged from the vessel on January 21 and gated out from the terminal the following day.

It arrived at the Autong warehouse around lunchtime and was swiftly unloaded by Wei Zhang and his staff.

Around half the shipment was boxes of Ugg boots, which Oz Natives does market as Chinese-made footwear and which are not registered under the Australian Made brand name.

A former Autong worker identified the boxes unloaded as having the identical codes for the items she handled, K6J for a toy koala with a jacket, K4.5R for koalas with Australia flag ribbons and K10C5R, for different sized koalas with ribbons.

An Oz Natives van was photographed on the same day ferrying a box stamped "AKL6B 60PCS", signifying 60 "Australian" koalas with toy miniature boomerangs.

Container ship YM Wealth (above) of Yang Ming Marine Transport, transported Autong’s Chinese made plush toys to Port Botany.
Container ship YM Wealth (above) of Yang Ming Marine Transport, transported Autong’s Chinese made plush toys to Port Botany.

A former employee of Autong has taken the secret videos inside the warehouse and news.com.au has surveillance video of the family unloading the boxes.

News.com.au has learned Mr Zhang - who started the business in 1997 as Autong Trading, registering Oz Natives in 2000 - initially sold Chinese-made kangaroos and koalas to shops around the country.

When he redesigned the toy animals in around 2006 and started putting Australian Made tags on them, sales skyrocketed.

According to its official site, the Australian Made brand is recognisable to 95 per cent of Australians and 70 per cent of Chinese tourists who visit Australia.

Australian Made has a massive global reach as one of the nation's most trusted logos.

The cost of manufacturing the plush toys in China is believed to be less than half the wholesale price for which Oz Natives sells the toys to Australian shops.

Wei Zhang unloads a new consignment of the Chinese-made plush toys including koalas in plastic bags on January 22, ahead of Australia Day. Picture: Patrick
Wei Zhang unloads a new consignment of the Chinese-made plush toys including koalas in plastic bags on January 22, ahead of Australia Day. Picture: Patrick

An employee could be seen unloading the boxes stamped "Autong" and "Made in China" last week and briefly handling a plush kangaroo toy identical to the 2006 redesign.

According to the Australian Made criteria, Australia "must be the country of origin of each significant ingredient or significant component of the good".

For the logo to be used, "all or virtually all, processes involved in the production or manufacture of the good must have happened in Australia".

The Autong toys are designed in Australia but wholly made in China, and "Manufactured in China" is written on the tag they arrive with and which is then removed in the warehouse.

It is replaced with two new tags, one with the brand "Oz Natives" plus the "Australian Made" triangular tag attached to the toy animal's ear.

The ex-employee of Autong told news.com.au that in 2015 an Australian Made official had visited Autong, and the Zhangs had called in a friend to pose with two sewing machines they kept on the premises.

There is no manufacturing done on the premises, and the sewing machines are kept there "just for show" along with a stitched but unstuffed toy koala, the former staff member revealed.

She said when she was first employed there, the toys arrive with a fabric tag saying "handcrafted in China" which she was instructed to remove.

As business grew, the toys would arrive from China with a "Made in Australia" tag sewn in, although the cardboard Chinese labels were still attached and had to be removed and replaced with the "Australian Made" triangle tags.

In early 2014, a Customs officer had visited the factory just before a container arrived from China.

Chinese made plush koalas newly arrived in a box from Shanghai before being retagged Australian Made. Picture: GJ
Chinese made plush koalas newly arrived in a box from Shanghai before being retagged Australian Made. Picture: GJ

The former Oz Natives employee told news.com.au one of her bosses told the Customs man that a bag of "Australia Made" tags had arrived in the container by mistake.

The officer had no jurisdiction over, or interest in whether the imported goods were being onsold as purportedly Australian.

The employee said after the customs visit Mr Zhang had been "scared" and moved 600 boxes of koalas and kangaroos out of the factory to store at a family address in the Sydney suburb of Merrylands.

She said that working for Wei Zhang had been her first job as a single mother newly relocated to Australia in 2004.

She said that on one occasion Mr Zhang's offsider had become irate when she failed to change over the Chinese tags on some toys among a large order.

"The customer in Melbourne wanted 4000 toys urgently and I made a mistake and missed one box," the employee said.

"She was screaming at me that I did it on purpose."

Another part of her job was to make sure all the newly arrived toys looked good enough for sale because sometimes, they had been made with a "crooked leg" or badly-sewn eyes.

Unstuffed koala body kept in case there is an unannounced inspection. Picture: Patrick.
Unstuffed koala body kept in case there is an unannounced inspection. Picture: Patrick.

"They are made in a factory somewhere outside of Shanghai," she told news.com.au.

"(Wei Zhang's assistant) told me it is not easy to get people to make them, so they use farmers or peasants in China, and they are very difficult to sew."

In a recent promotion of the Australian Made brand, CEO of Australian Made Ben Lazzaro said the essence of the logo was trust and supporting employment of Australians.

"When we buy Australian-made, not only do you get products made to some of the highest standards both from a quality and safety perspective … but you also create jobs," he said.

"Our logo is much respected and recognised. It's got 34 years of market capital behind it.

"We … worked so hard to be able to administer a brand that is so effective and respected.

"It's ingrained in people's lives."

The logo has so much clout, applications to register it were up 400 per cent per month during the COVID-19 outbreak last year.

Mr Zhang from Oz Natives denied the claims and told news.com.au that although the fabric for the toys was imported from China, all "the cutting, sewing and stuffing" of the toys took place at Lansvale.

Asked how many employees he had doing this work, Mr Zhang said "at the moment we don't have many people".

He said he had a dispute with a former employee, but had been checked by Australian Customs and audited by Australian Made.

"Someone, people try to make trouble because of disputes. We import soft toys (but) that's different from the Australian made (ones)."

He said he had been "harassed by false claims in industrial relations and work covers" and that "dirty tricks (have been) played on me".

Mr Zhang said this was related to an "abuse of power" related to the 30 unit strata complex where his business is located.

Australia Made CEO Ben Lazzaro issued a statement to news.com.au: "Maintaining the integrity of the Australian Made logo is paramount.

"As a certification trademark, the Australian Made logo is underpinned by a set of rules that govern its use.

"With that in mind, the Australian Made Campaign has a compliance program in place that comprises an audit on application, coupled with an annual random auditing program of those businesses licensed to use the logo.

"Furthermore, all complaints regarding misuse of the logo are investigated by the Australian Made Campaign and its legal team.

"Unfortunately, there will always be some businesses that intentionally break the rules and deceive. In these instances, the Australian Made Campaign will pursue these businesses aggressively.

"Most transgressions tend to be innocent or unintentional misuse of the brand and these are usually easily resolved.

"However, if it is established that a more deliberate misuse of the brand has occurred then, if required, the appropriate legal action will be taken.

If you have evidence of misuse of the Australian Made logo, please contact the Australian Made Campaign."

candace.sutton@news.com.au

Originally published as Cheap Chinese knock offs exposed

A Zhang family vehicle ferrying the Chinese plush toys around, including a box of ‘AKL6B’ models or koalas with boomerangs.
A Zhang family vehicle ferrying the Chinese plush toys around, including a box of ‘AKL6B’ models or koalas with boomerangs.
A 15cm Autong koala with boomerang for sale online for $12. Picture: Supplied
A 15cm Autong koala with boomerang for sale online for $12. Picture: Supplied
A 23cm kangaroo going for $23 at a Melbourne souvenir shop. Picture: Supplied
A 23cm kangaroo going for $23 at a Melbourne souvenir shop. Picture: Supplied
The local and Australian Made tags are clipped in the ear.
The local and Australian Made tags are clipped in the ear.
Eureka: a fake Aussie plush toys becomes ‘Australian Made’.
Eureka: a fake Aussie plush toys becomes ‘Australian Made’.
A staff member unloads a container. Picture: PFM
A staff member unloads a container. Picture: PFM
Australian Made’s criteria for using the iconic label.
Australian Made’s criteria for using the iconic label.
Wei Zhang (centre) and staff members unload an earlier consignment of Chinese-made plush toys after a container load was delivered on January 22. Picture: PFM
Wei Zhang (centre) and staff members unload an earlier consignment of Chinese-made plush toys after a container load was delivered on January 22. Picture: PFM
Wei Zhang unloads from a container delivered to Autong in Lansvale. Picture: PFM
Wei Zhang unloads from a container delivered to Autong in Lansvale. Picture: PFM
Chinese made plush toys arrive by the thousands. Picture: GJ
Chinese made plush toys arrive by the thousands. Picture: GJ
Boxes of the Chinese plush toys in the warehouse. Picture: GJ
Boxes of the Chinese plush toys in the warehouse. Picture: GJ
Boxes containing 96 small koala or 18 large kangaroo toys. Picture: GJ
Boxes containing 96 small koala or 18 large kangaroo toys. Picture: GJ
New consignment of fake Aussie koalas. Picture: GJ
New consignment of fake Aussie koalas. Picture: GJ
Fake ‘Australian Made’ Oz Natives koala advertised for sale by well-known tourist location. Picture: Supplied
Fake ‘Australian Made’ Oz Natives koala advertised for sale by well-known tourist location. Picture: Supplied
Made in Australia tag sewn into rear end. Picture: GJ
Made in Australia tag sewn into rear end. Picture: GJ
Each box is marked according to the style of the toy.
Each box is marked according to the style of the toy.
The top box is marked ‘K6J’ for koalas with jackets.
The top box is marked ‘K6J’ for koalas with jackets.

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