ACCC takes action against Woolworths for ‘unsafe’ products

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th September 2014
One of the products that has been deemed "unsafe"
One of the products that has been deemed “unsafe”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against Woolworths Ltd (Woolworths) alleging that Woolworths made false or misleading representations about the safety of certain Woolworths products.

It is also alleged that Woolworths failed to file mandatory reports as required by the Australian Consumer Law once it had become aware that serious injury or illness may have been caused by certain Woolworths products.

These proceedings follow warnings from the ACCC in October 2013 that many businesses needed to address their safety compliance programs after noticing that that the trend towards greater direct sourcing of less expensive products from overseas by retailers of “fast-moving consumer goods” correlated with an increase in consumer injuries and a sharp increase in the number of recalls of those goods. This warning was delivered to the International Consumer Product Health & Safety Organisation Symposium by ACCC Chairman Rod Sims.

“Consumers are entitled to expect that the goods that they purchase from retailers are safe, and that retailers will act swiftly when product defects are subsequently identified, to avoid further potential harm to consumers,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC has alleged that Woolworths made false or misleading representations about the safety of three Woolworths home brand products:

  • Abode 3L Stainless Steel Deep Fryer
  • Woolworths Select Drain Cleaner 1L
  • Homebrand Safety Matches (10 boxes per pack).

The ACCC has alleged that by offering these products for sale, Woolworths represented that they were safe when they were not, and that by continuing to sell them once it was aware these products may have caused serious injury Woolworths continued to make false or misleading representations that these products were safe.

The ACCC has also alleged that Woolworths made false or misleading representations about the weight capacity of the Woolworths Home Collection Padded Flop Chair and Masters Home Improvement Folding Stepping Stool, as these products did not withstand the maximum weight load stated on their packaging.

Products all subsequently recalled

These products have all subsequently been recalled by Woolworths.  Consumers can obtain further information on these products from the Recalls Australia website.  If consumers still have any of the products, they should immediately return the product to Woolworths and are entitled to a full refund. In the case of the Woolworths Select Drain Cleaner 1L consumers should refer to Recalls Australia website.

“Companies should ensure that they have effective quality assurance processes in place to prevent unsafe products from reaching their shelves,” Mr Sims said. “This is particularly the case where companies look to reduce costs in their supply chain by directly sourcing home brand products from overseas manufacturers,” he said.

“All suppliers have an obligation to ensure that any product defects identified are dealt with swiftly to prevent harm to consumers,” Mr Sims said. “This includes ensuring that any serious injury or illness associated with a product is reported promptly and that recall action is taken where appropriate,” he said.

The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, declarations, injunctions, findings of fact, publicity orders, an order that Woolworths implement a product safety compliance program, an order that Woolworths publish information to raise consumer awareness about product safety and how to report safety incidents, and costs.

The matter has been set down for a directions hearing in Sydney at  9:30 am on 4 November 2014.

Consumers can keep up to date on recalled products at the Recalls Australia website, by downloading the ACCC Recalls Australia app for iPhones and Android, or by liking the Recalls Australia page on Facebook.