ACCC takes Woolworths to court

Woolworths_MarrickvilleMetro_Store FrontThe Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has taken Woolworths to the federal court over environmental misrepresentations on its disposable picnic products.

The ACCC says the supermarket giant’s ‘W Select eco’ line of bowls, plates and cutlery had been marketed as biodegradable and compostable in the three years to November 2017.

However, the ACCC says, these environmental representations were “false, misleading or deceptive” and in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

The ACCC also alleges that Woolworths had failed to make reasonable or adequate efforts to substantiate these biodegradability claims.

“Customers paid a premium because they rightfully thought the environmental claims would have been substantiated,” said ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement.

“The ACCC also alleges that Woolworths made these claims in circumstances where it was aware there was confusion among consumers and businesses about the meaning of biodegradable and compostable.”

“One of the suppliers of the W Select eco line also had significant qualifications on its website about the biodegradability and compostability of its products,” Court said.

“Despite all these matters, Woolworths made the representations without explanation or qualification.”

The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, injunctions, declarations, publication orders and costs.

Woolworths “concerned” over pokies claims 

Meanwhile an Australian poker machine giant has dobbed itself into regulators after its staff were accused of profiling punters to encourage them to stay longer and gamble more.

Federal MP and anti-pokies campaigner Andrew Wilkie has obtained screenshots of data being kept on gamblers at Woolworths-owned pubs, which is being shared among the supermarket giant’s 400 pubs.

“This isn’t just basic information,” Wilkie told parliament last week.

“We’re talking things like jobs, times people come in, favourite drinks, favourite football teams, whether they have a partner and what their preferred bet level is.”

He claimed staff were rewarded with gift vouchers for meeting betting targets and certain players were being induced to stay with drink cards and other promotions.

“This practise undoubtedly increases revenue but it’s also immoral…and directly fosters increased gaming addiction,” the Tasmanian independent MP said.

Gordon Cairns, chairman of the Woolworths Group, said he was concerned about the allegations regarding its joint venture partner, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, and was taking them “very seriously”.

“In late 2017 ALH engaged Canada’s Responsible Gambling Council, an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to problem gambling prevention, to conduct an independent review of ALH’s gaming operations,” Cairns said.

“ALH will expand RGC’s review to include the allegations raised by the former ALH employees and Mr Andrew Wilkie.

“We would encourage them, Mr Wilkie and any others with relevant information to be part of the independent review.”

ALH said the line between legitimate customer service and responsible gaming and alcohol service must be respected.

“If there are instances where that line has been crossed, ALH is committed to taking the necessary steps to rectify any breach and address any non-compliant behaviour,” the company said in a statement.

It has notified the independent regulator in Queensland, where the matters raised on Wednesday originated in mid-2017, and says it stands to provide any information or assistance required.

Wilkie said it was up to each jurisdiction to consider the legality of the activities.

He conceded other hospitality businesses might be applauded for gathering such information to build relationships with customers, but insisted pokies venues were a different kettle of fish.

“This is a systemic program of harvesting very sensitive private information and storing it on a shared data base that many people can access,” he said.

“This is broadacre surveillance, this ain’t the concierge at the motel or hotel.”

Pokies have emerged as a key election issue in Saturday’s Tasmanian state election, after the Labor opposition promised to strip machines from pubs and clubs.

The Liberal government has pledged to change licensing arrangements so individual venues are licensed.

Wilkie is worried gambling industry money could tip the election result.

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