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Oscar Wylee could fall foul of ACCC; changes its charity claims

Following an investigation by Insight, optical retailer Oscar Wylee has drastically overhauled its I Care For Eyecare charity initiative webpage.

Additionally, marketing statements from its product pages, which previously claimed, “For every pair of frames you purchase from us, a pair is donated to someone in need”, have also been removed.

However, uncertainty still surrounds its new commitments and whether the company ever fulfilled its promise to donate a pair of glasses for every pair purchased. If the corporate social responsibility marketing claim – which dates back to 2012 – cannot be substantiated, Oscar Wylee could fall foul of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Section 18 of The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) prohibits a business from engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct. This prohibition is not limited to the supply of goods or services and is designed to cover a broad, economy-wide norm of conduct, which would include philanthropic marketing and advertising.In addition to the removal of the ‘one-for-one’ customer promise, the 49-store retail chain has roved various information and pictures of the Rose Cambodia eye clinic.

Oscar Wylee continues to state on its ‘I Care For Eyecare’ webpage that it works with “established partners who are committed to making the biggest impact possible with the support we provide”.

It lists Australian eye health charity Sight For All as its current charity partner, and says it contributes to the organisation through direct donations and by hosting ‘Dinner In The Dark’ events. The ‘I Care For Eyecare’ page also claims it “Donated funds to Sight For All for World Sight Day 2016-2018”.

The optical chain has variously stated that it supports World Sight Day based on three different formulas: 100% of profits, 100% of gross profits and 100% of proceeds.

Dr James Muecke chairman of Sight For All has subsequently confirmed that Oscar Wylee made a donation to Sight For All for its 2017 activities.

“We can confirm that Oscar Wylee has been a valued supporter of Sight For All since 2015. In 2018, we received $30,439.00 in a donation from Oscar Wylee’s proceeds from World Sight Day 2017,” Muecke said.

“Since 2015, Sight For All has received $103,439 in financial donations in addition to 3,000 pairs of frames from Oscar Wylee. These donations have contributed to our continued work in blindness prevention across developing countries in Southeast Asia.”

When queried about Oscar Wylee’s donation for its 2018 activities, Sight For All’s executive officer Ms Judy Hatswell was unable to provide a figure.

“While we want to ensure there’s transparency in your reporting, we are a small organisation with limited resources. We would prefer to use our time and resources in helping the visually impaired,” Hatswell said.

These figures appear to be at odds with Oscar Wylee’s prior claims of donating “a pair of spectacles for every pair purchased.” Variations of this customer promise appeared on the Oscar Wylee website between 2012 and 2018, as well as on customer packaging and carry bags.

Between 2013 and 2014 Oscar Wylee donated $4,000 and 100 frames to Rose Cambodia, and was still claiming a partnership with the charity up until Insight’s investigation. Mr Mike Webber, a trustee of Rose NZ, refuted the claim that the two organisations were in a ‘partnership’ during this time, and that Oscar Wylee had not made any contribution to the charity after 2014, despite featuring it prominently on its website.

Despite multiple phone calls and ails seeking clarification about the ‘one-for-one’ marketing commitment, Oscar Wylee general manager Ms Gracie Yan has not confirmed how the company’s financial donations over the past six years equate to its long-standing charity commitment.

Insight also sought clarification from company directors Mr Bob Teoh and Mr Jack Teoh, however they have rained silent.

While not commenting on a specific case, an ACCC spokesperson said businesses cannot make statements in advertising that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. “Any business that claims a portion of its sales will be provided to a charity for example, should be able to substantiate the claim, or they risk breaching the Australian Consumer Law.”

“If a business fails to honour its marketing claim to donate part of its proceeds to a charity, this can amount to conduct that is misleading or deceptive, or false and misleading representations, under the Australian Consumer Law. When determining whether a claim is misleading or deceptive, it is important to consider the overall impression likely to be made to a reasonable consumer by the marketing claims,” the ACCC spokesperson added.

Penalties for a breach of ACL Section 18 can be $10 million, three times the value of the benefit received, or 10% of a company’s annual turnover in the preceding 12 months if the court cannot determine benefit obtained from the offence.

The ACCC spokesperson said marketing claims pertaining to philanthropic work are held to the same standard as other marketing claims under the ACL, however, there are other requirents that apply under other federal or state and territory based legislation relating to fundraising.

“For instance, as well as prohibiting misleading or deceptive claims by fundraisers, some state fundraising legislation also specifically requires fundraisers to keep records of the full details of all funds and assets received as a result of an appeal and records of what happened to all those funds and assets,” the ACCC spokesperson said.

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