The competition watchdog has initiated proceedings against supermarket giant Woolworths, alleging it mislead customers over the safety of a range of products including chairs, matches and deep fryers.
Customers that bought the affected products are being encouraged by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to return them to Woolworths for a full refund. The ACCC is using the case to remind businesses to ensure they have appropriate quality assurance mechanisms in place.
“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,” said ACCC Chairman Rod Sims.
The Federal Court action against Woolworths comes amid media reports that a draft version of the government commissioned competition review led by professor Ian Harper will not include a recommendation for an “effects test” in section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act.
The inclusion of an “effects test” is seen by bodies like Master Grocers Australia as necessary to help smaller operators by seeking to limit the ability of major players like Coles and Woolworths to exploit their market power for anti-competitive ends.
On Wednesday the ACCC released a statement alleging that Woolworths had misrepresented the safety of drain cleaners, safety matches and stainless steel deep fryers.
“The ACCC alleges 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 statement said.
In addition, the ACCC claims that Woolworths made misleading representations about the weight capacity of its padded flop chair and home improvement folding stepping stool. It has asked consumers to return any of the products to Woolworths and warned companies to ensure that they had appropriate quality assurance processes in place, particularly where home brand products were sourced from overseas suppliers.
“All suppliers have an obligation to ensure that any product defects identified are dealt with swiftly to prevent harm to consumers. This includes ensuring that any serious injury or illness associated with a product is reported promptly and that recall action is taken where appropriate,” Mr Sims said.
Earlier this year, 28-year-old Sheryl Anne Aldeguer was electrocuted by a faulty USB charger and was found with burns to her ears and chest. The incident happened when she was talking over the phone to a friend from Dubai while it was plugged into a charger.
The ACCC is now seeking an order that Woolworths implement a product safety compliance program. A directions hearing will take place in Sydney on October 3.