Glasses retailer Oscar Wylee stands accused of failing to make charitable donations spruiked in its marketing, prompting a strong rebuke and legal action from the competition watchdog.
In a statement on Friday (13 December), the ACCC announced that it has begun legal action in the Federal Court against the retailer, alleging that it breached Australian Consumer Law by way of deceptive or misleading conduct.
According to the ACCC, Oscar Wylee had advertised “between at least January 2014 and December 2018” that it would donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair of glasses it sold.
However, the regulator has alleged that only 3,000 pairs of glasses had been donated over the period, despite sales in excess of 320,000 pairs.
Additionally, Oscar Wylee has been accused of misleading consumers about being “partnered” in an ongoing relationship with Rose Charities to build eye care programs in Cambodia, despite only making a one-off donation of $2,000 and 100 glasses frames.
Delia Rickard, deputy chair at the ACCC, alleged that both claims implied Oscar Wylee was engaged in substantial and ongoing charitable activities and “exploited consumers’ desire to support charitable causes”.
“We allege Oscar Wylee donated less than 1 per cent of the glasses it said it would,” she said.
“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.”
Ms Rickard said that all businesses making claims about charitable donations or affiliations are true and “can be substantiated”.
The ACCC said that Oscar Wylee operates 52 stores in Australia as well as selling online, although the retailer’s website lists 62 locations, predominantly in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
As of 11:30am on 13 December, the retailer was still promoting an “I care for eyecare” page on its website, with messaging that states, “For every pair of frames you purchase from us, a portion is donated to someone in need”.
It did not mention Rose Charities, but it did state that “we work with established organisations who are committed to making the biggest impact possible with the support we provide”, and listed Sight For All, Dinner in the Dark and World Sight Day 2016–2018 as its “current projects and latest events”.
Retailer to ‘vigorously defend’ action
In a statement responding to the ACCC’s allegations, Oscar Wylee said that it plans to “vigorously defend the legal action launched today by the ACCC”.
“We utterly reject the allegations made by the ACCC which do not reflect the range and scale of the community and charitable contributions made by Oscar Wylee.
“Since its founding in 2012, Oscar Wylee has proudly undertaken a range of programs in line with an ongoing commitment to corporate social responsibility.
“Oscar Wylee has to date donated more than 350,000 pairs of glasses to charity organisations including Sight for All. Monetary donations in that period total $130,865.”
It concluded: “We take our corporate and social responsibility seriously and have always acted with good intentions.”
A spokesperson said that Oscar Wylee would not comment further at the current time.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.