Oscar Wylee has been fined $3.5 million for breaching Australian Consumer Law after misleading customers over charity donations.
On Friday the Federal Court handed down a judgement that found the business had engaged in deceptive behaviour and made false representations regarding claims it would donate a pair of glasses to people in need for each pair sold.
“Oscar Wylee acknowledges the importance of the issues raised by the ACCC and sincerely regrets the contraventions of the ACL,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to Inside Retail.
“[We have] taken corrective action in response to the court action and in line with our ongoing commitment to corporate social responsibility.”
The “Pair for a pair” promotion ran from 2014 to 2018, during which time it sold 328,010 pairs of glasses and donated only 3181 – less than one per cent, according to the ACCC.
The consumer watchdog had been investigating Oscar Wylee for some time and started federal proceedings against the business in December 2019.
At the time, Justice Anna Katzmann said depsite the business’ claims that the promotion didn’t result in financial loss for consumers, a lack of evidence made it hard to determine whether any insight or reflection had been achieved.
“It’s one thing to say there wasn’t a compliance system in place … it’s another to tell the public that you’re doing good works, performing good deeds and appealing to the better nature of consumers, and tearing at the heartstrings of people,” she said.
ACCC barrister Robert Yezerki said the business’ virtue signalling and misconduct was extremely serious, and requested a penalty of $3.5 million – which was subsequently approved.
The eyewear business’ claims exploited consumers’ desire to support charitable causes, said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
“We are concerned that consumers may have chosen Oscar Wylee over other eyewear companies because they believed their purchase would result in Oscar Wylee providing glasses to people in need and supporting a sustainable eye care program in Cambodia,” Rickard said. “Businesses must ensure that if they make claims about their charitable donations, affiliations or partnerships, they are true and can be substantiated.”
At the time Oscar Wylee told Inside Retail it rejected the claims, which didn’t reflect the range and scale of its community and charity work, and that it had donated more than 350,000 pairs of glasses to charity organisations.
The business also told Inside Retail that monetary donations to charities supporting eyecare for the disadvantaged totaled $80,000, and total cash donations had topped $130,000 for the period in question.