Legal

ACCC warns retailers to make products safe – or face the consequences

Patrick Stafford /

The competition watchdog has delivered a stern warning to the retail sector, saying it remains concerned about businesses which are selling high-risk goods usually sourced from overseas.

In an explicit warning, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission head Rod Sims said in a speech some major retailers appeared “not to have satisfactory processes in place”.

“To avoid contravening the consumer protection laws, retailers need to consider their processes so that they do not put unsafe goods on their shelves.”

The warning was made as part of Product Safety Week and in the wake of the commission receiving more than 2500 reports every year of potentially hazardous products.

It also comes as more businesses are stocking shelves with products from offshore suppliers.

There have been 91 recalls in the last year, confiscating two million products from shelves. Sims says harmonised laws regarding product safety have allowed the ACCC more power in this regard.

“In some cases, the ACCC has identified safety issues across an entire market segment and negotiated a number of recalls to ensure that the problem has been rectified across that market segment.”

During 2012, there were 79 assessments that required further action – some of them are particularly sobering. Reports of potentially dangerous prams and strollers led to an investigation – there was some concern of finger amputation.

Another investigation involved five recalls of more than 51,000 folding ladders.

“As a result of this work,” said Sims, “the NZ Ministry of Consumer Affairs, which has also experienced problems with ladder safety, has collaborated with the ACCC to ensure that our respective markets are cleared of ladders that are unsafe”.

“You will be hearing more from us on safety enforcement,” he warned.

“Let me be very clear: if retailers are discovered to have taken short-cuts in applying basic quality assurance and control measures, at the expense of consumer safety, we will take action in any way we can.”

The warning has been directed squarely at suppliers: “Today, I am telling Australian suppliers to get their product safety compliance programs in order.”

Sims said the ACCC would want to see that factory audits have been regularly performed, that raw materials have been tested and that pre-shipment inspections are carried out with “adequate supervision by qualified staff”.

“We appreciate that this is a difficult area, particularly in relation to known product hazards where different but firmly established requirements are in place.”

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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