The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released its Compliance and Enforcement Policy yesterday, which sets out the watchdog’s priority areas for the year ahead.
The ACCC will be closely monitoring food label claims this year, with a particular emphasis on ‘free range’ and place of origin information.
The ACCC will also target fake testimonials on online group buying sites, door-to-door sales by energy spruikers and unfair terms in contracts for telecommunications, airlines, hire car and online trading services.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the ACCC expected to increase its rate of intervention in competition matters.
“We have also decided to place further emphasis on online competition and consumer issues,” he said.
“This includes conduct which may impede emerging competition between online traders or limit the ability of small businesses to effectively compete online.”
Sally Scott, partner at law firm Hall and Wilcox, told SmartCompany there was more reason than ever for businesses to ensure they understand their competition and consumer obligations.
“Rod Sims has had a very strong focus on litigating over the past 12 months. This policy document suggests that if anything, this will escalate,” she says.
“It’s not just legal action and fines that businesses ought be concerned about. It’s also the potentially disastrous PR that can follow action by the ACCC that can do just as much damage.”
Scott says the ACCC can impose undertakings that can be quite detrimental for a business by restricting a business from doing what its competitors are doing.
“Having a compliance program – with policies, procedures and training – will be taken into account by the ACCC when determining whether to take action and what penalties to pursue. It can be the difference between a $20,000 fine and a million dollar penalty,” she says.