FOOD FOR THOUGHT: 2020 ACCC COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT PRIORITIES ANNOUNCED

Earlier this week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced its annual compliance and enforcement priorities for 2020. This list consists of a number of areas that are targeted at retail and particularly food businesses in Australia and include:

  • misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to the sale and promotion of food products;
  • franchisor conduct and compliance with the Franchising Code of Conduct;
  • education and enforcement concerning consumer guarantees; and
  • competition and consumer issues relating to digital platforms, especially the collection and use of consumer data.

This announcement comes as a timely reminder for businesses to ensure they have processes in place to ensure compliance with the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) (CCA), including the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

Below, we consider some of these priorities more closely.

Key 2020 Priorities

Food Claims and Advertising

The ACCC has identified that “health-related issues” are increasingly driving consumption decisions in Australia and that it will therefore focus on ensuring that food products are not sold or marketed in a way that is misleading or deceptive.  Particular attention will be paid to:

  • health and nutritional claims e.g. a product is a good source of vitamins and minerals (notably, the Food Standards Code also includes prescriptive requirements that must be met in order to make these types of claims);
  • credence claims e.g. a product is ‘environmentally friendly’; and
  • country of origin claims e.g. “Made in Australia”.

Consumers are often unable to verify whether these claims are true and the ACCC is concerned that consumers are paying premium prices without receiving the claimed benefits of products.

Franchising Code of Conduct

The 2019 Fairness in Franchising Report highlighted systemic issues in the franchising industry, including actual and potentially intimidating behaviour, abuse of power imbalances between franchisors and franchisees, and various other breaches of the CCA.

Building on these findings and recommendations, the ACCC has indicated that it will be a priority to ensure that small businesses receive appropriate protection, including those that are available under the Franchising Code of Conduct and CCA.

Consumer Guarantees

Consumer guarantees were a key priority for the ACCC in 2019, and the regulator has indicated that education and enforcement activities will be an on-going focus for high value goods such as motor vehicles and electrical and white goods.

Focus Industries

The ACCC has given a broad indication that it will focus on enforcing competition and consumer issues across a range of industries, including funeral services, energy and telecommunications and digital platforms.  Particular concerns have arisen with misuse of market power, opacity in pricing, and the taking advantage of vulnerable consumers.

After the 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry, the ACCC has confirmed that it will be scrutinising the conduct of online platforms, including launching investigations into allegations that consumers are being misled about the collection and use of their personal data.

Button Batteries

In 2019, the ACCC established a Button Battery Taskforce that would focus on reducing the harm that this product poses to consumers and this taskforce will continue to look at ways to reduce child injury and death caused by button batteries.

Enduring Priorities

The ACCC’s 2020 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities compliment the regulator’s enduring priorities which, as a result of their potential for harm, remain an ongoing focus, namely: cartel conduct; anti-competitive conduct; product safety; and conduct impacting vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers or Indigenous Australians.

More information on the 2020 ACCC Compliance and Enforcement Priorities can be found at this link.

This post was co-authored by Alexandra Moore (Graduate), Valiant Warzecha, Jessie Buchan and Melinda Upton.