Yet another company has been called out for risking the health of Australians in an effort to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia’s largest fashion retailer, Mosaic Brands, was fined $630,000 on Thursday for lying to customers about hand sanitiser and face masks sold between June 3 and July 11 last year.
The Noni B owner, which has 1200 stores, joins the likes of Lorna Jane and celebrity chef Pete Evans in falling foul of regulators for attempting to make money from the worst health crisis in 100 years.
Others, including Telstra in Australia and Ryanair overseas, were also fined for business decisions they made after the pandemic struck.
But as pandemic profiteering goes, Mosaic’s effort was particularly egregious.
The company told worried parents its face masks were certified by health authorities in the United States and Europe, when they weren’t.
And it also wrongly said its hand sanitiser would protect customers from the coronavirus, when testing undertaken by Choice and later the ACCC found one of its products had just 17 per cent alcohol content.
Health authorities say at least 60 per cent is needed to combat COVID-19.
Business telling fibs
Choice campaigner Dean Price said Mosaic wasn’t the only one telling lies about COVID-19 – he told The New Daily lots of businesses had been making dodgy claims about their products during the pandemic.
“Businesses need to take a step back and make sure that what they’re selling is actually going to help people and protect people,” Mr Price said.
“We’ve called out many businesses for different claims, whether it be the incorrect amount of alcohol that was in hand sanitiser, [or] some of the panic marketing that we saw, both from Mosaic Brands as well as other companies like health insurers.”
Mr Price welcomed the ACCC’s action against Mosaic on Thursday, but urged regulators to continue pushing back against misleading businesses.
“The fine that Mosaic is paying is a slap on the wrist, but we do see it as a deterrent to other businesses from doing this in the future,” he said.
In December, active wear giant Lorna Jane was also caught red handed for misleading customers.
It claimed its “anti-virus active wear” stopped the spread of COVID-19 and provided protection against pathogens – claims the ACCC alleges are completely untrue in an ongoing court case.
And who could forget celebrity chef Pete Evans, who tried to use his Instagram account to sell hyperbaric oxygen chambers as a COVID therapy? He was fined almost $80,000 by the TGA earlier this week.
Others have escaped with no financial penalties though, including federal politician Craig Kelly, who has spruiked Hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus therapy, despite medical experts repeatedly debunking that claim.
Mosaic was only caught because a customer alerted Choice, which then investigated the matter and complained to the ACCC.
And although Choice tested hand sanitiser products at 60 different outlets, Mr Price said it was feasible that many other businesses were selling dodgy hand sanitiser and making spurious COVID claims.
Meanwhile, Mosaic sought to shift blame to supplier BDirect when quizzed about its hand sanitiser products on Thursday.
“Wholesaler BDirect, who supply a number of large Australian retailers, sold via Mosaic Brands website a range of sanitisers and masks on the understanding that they complied with strict Australian regulations,” a spokesperson for the fashion giant said in an email.
“Mosaic Brands subsequently learnt that BDirect provided misleading representation on two products, sold via the Mosaic website, or substituted a small number of products with an inferior one.”
The New Daily put Mosaic’s claims to BDirect via email, but did not receive a response before deadline.
Its website still lists several hand sanitiser products for sale.