ACCC publishes new recall guidelines – they are clear, practical and helpful

Earlier this year, the ACCC updated its product safety recall guidelines for suppliers of consumer goods. The new guidelines step through the voluntary recall process from start to finish, provide suppliers with greater clarity on what the ACCC expects for an effective recall, include helpful templates for suppliers to use for communications to stakeholders and provide good detail on the ACCC’s role throughout the recall process.

The number of voluntary recalls each year remains significant. Last year, there were 365 voluntary recalls.1 That’s one a day. When the necessity for a recall becomes clear, it’s best to be prepared. The ACCC’s new product safety recall guidelines provide much welcomed certainty for suppliers unsure of how to navigate the recall process.

The guidelines make it easier for suppliers to know when the ACCC will be responsible for leading a recall or, if not, which government agency will have that responsibility. Food recalls are clearly the responsibility of Food Standards ANZ, therapeutic goods recalls are the responsibility of the Therapeutic Goods Authority. Many other recalls though remain the responsibility of the ACCC.

In the guidelines, the ACCC reinforces the importance of setting up a recall plan and template recall communications ahead of time (as noted in our previous article Addisons’ top ten tips for managing a product recall). There is a new focus on prevention, with the inclusion of guidance on what suppliers can do to reduce the risk of safety issues arising with their products.

The guidelines also provide far more guidance than was previously the case by taking suppliers through each step of the recall process, their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law and the ACCC’s expectations of suppliers during a recall. In particular, the guidelines emphasise the ACCC’s expectation that suppliers constantly evaluate and adjust their recall plan throughout the process to reach more consumers and increase the number of products returned by consumers, for example, by trying more incentives and different communication styles and channels.

Helpfully too, the guidelines include a step-by-step guide to the European Union RAPEX risk assessment tool, which can be used by suppliers to assess the hazards and risk level associated with a product and to determine the details of their recall plan and communications plan in response to that level of risk.

The guidelines have also been significantly modernised, now taking into account the use of social media and e-commerce to sell products, including through the use of online marketplaces, and how online platforms can be used to promote a recall.

A number of useful tools have been added to the guidelines, including:

  • a checklist outlining the process for conducting a recall that suppliers can modify to suit their business;
  • a sample recall plan;
  • a recall communications package, which contains sample messages and communications to consumers, guidance on words and phrases to avoid using in a recall message and how social media communications and Quick Response (QR) codes can be used to increase the reach of a recall message; and
  • guidance on recall messages targeted towards to Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Tiwi people living in remote communities and multicultural communities.

Recalls can be costly and stressful and require suppliers to think and act quickly, so it’s best to be prepared. The ACCC’s new guidelines can certainly help suppliers both before and during the recall process. We commend them to you.

If you need assistance with setting up your recall plan, please contact Addisons’ Competition, Consumer & Antitrust team.

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1 ACCC and AER, Annual Report 2021-22 (October 2022) p 108.

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