Christmas comes but once a year, and so does the ACCC’s list of enforcement targets. In his annual address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), ACCC Chairman Rod Sims has revealed the ACCC’s naughty list for 2017.
The ‘always on the hit list’ list
The following are classified as ‘enduring priorities’ (meaning they will likely always be on the ACCC radar):
- Cartels are still a key enforcement focus – you’d be forgiven for thinking that 2016 was the year of the cartel, with the ACCC securing penalties for various cartel actions, including the first ever criminal cartel proceedings under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (see our separate blog). With many more investigations underway, some of which are advanced, we can expect to see more cartel cases before the courts this year. And with this comes an ominous warning: “Unfortunately, I fear that only jail sentences for individuals in prominent companies will help to send the appropriate deterrence messages that cartels seriously damage competition and the economy as a whole”, Mr Sims said.
- Product safety issues which may lead to serious harm to consumers.
- Vulnerable/disadvantaged consumers, who are all-too-often disproportionately affected by conduct which breaches consumer laws.
- Indigenous consumers living in remote areas are a continuing focus given the challenges they face in understanding and enforcing their rights. Understanding the power of social media to connect with remote communities, the ACCC operates the ‘Your Rights Mob’ Facebook page, which provides information and assistance on consumer law issues.
The 2017 priority hit list
- Following the extension of the unfair contract terms regime to small business, Mr Sims indicated that the ACCC is investigating several cases and will pursue action against businesses which are not complying with changes. Given the long lead time businesses had to get their compliance house in order, this is hardly surprising.
- New country of origin labelling laws came into force on 1 July 2016, and businesses have until 1 July 2018 to comply with the new requirements. The ACCC will be on the front foot in ensuring businesses (particularly in the food and beverage industry) understand and are taking steps to comply with these new requirements.
- Compliance with payment surcharge laws which came into force for large companies in February 2016, and will apply to all companies from September 2017.
- Priority industry sectors likely to come under scrutiny include private health insurance, agriculture (price competitiveness, trading practices and supply chain issues), commercial construction, telecommunications and new car retailers.
- Health claims on children’s foods.
Unless you want the ACCC leaving some surprise coal in your stocking this year, it’s time to get your compliance policies and procedures in order. If you’ve not had your standard form contracts reviewed prior to November 2016, or you’re concerned your competition, consumer, or product labelling practices aren’t quite up to scratch, call us for an obligation-free chat. Our Commercial team is adept at advising on all manner of competition and consumer law issues, and regularly provides onsite training for clients.
Better to call us before the ACCC calls you.