Sporting goods retail chain Decathlon has been ordered to pay $1.5 million after it sold inflatable pools and basketball hoops without the required warning labels in a “careless” breach of Australian consumer law.
France-based Decathlon’s Australian stores between 2016 and 2019 sold several models of basketball rings and pools that were missing safety labelling, consumer warnings or instructions required by the safety standards.
In Federal Court proceedings, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission argued the company had recklessly disregarded the relevant standards and it had failed to adequately respond to the concerns raised by the federal watchdog on several occasions over 18 months.
Handing down a judgment on Tuesday, Justice John Nicholas said the company’s conduct was not reckless but was careless.
“Many of the non-compliant products were being supplied for months, in some cases more than a year, after the ACCC contacted Decathlon,” he said.
The pools were missing warnings such as “children have drowned in portable swimming pools”, “ensure active adult supervision at all times” and “pool fencing laws apply to this pool”.
Meanwhile, the basketball rings did not warn users not to attach the products to brick walls, which can collapse when people perform slam dunks.
At least four people have been killed after the structure supporting a basketball ring collapsed on top of them in the past 25 years.
“In fact, many of the products contained a pictogram of the product affixed to a brick wall, positively implying that it was safe to affix the product to brickwork,” Justice Nicholas noted.
The company’s chief executive said an error in the chain’s global ordering system problem allowed the products to be distributed for Australian stores despite the system flagging them as non-compliant.
But Justice Nicholas said Decathlon from its launch in 2016 until early 2020 had no adequate processes in place to ensure that the products it intended to sell complied with consumer law.
“The sale of products by Decathlon that did not comply with the relevant standards was not merely attributable to some technical deficiency… but was also the result of a general lack of attention to its legal responsibilities coupled with a failure to take effective and timely action in response to correspondence received from the ACCC,” he said.
However, the number of non-compliant products sold in Australia was small, the profit from the sales – about $35,000 – was modest, and there is no evidence anyone suffered any injury, loss or damage as a result.
Setting aside the CEO’s argument any significant penalty could lead to Decathlon France closing down its Australian operation, Justice Nicholas imposed a penalty of $1.5 million.
It was important to send a message non-compliance with mandatory safety standards would not be tolerated, especially in relation to products targeted to children, he said.