JOHANNESBURG – Retail giant Woolworths is pulling baby carriers that resemble those designed by a Cape Town entrepreneur off its shelves and has invited customers to return the product for a full refund after mounting pressure on social media.
The JSE-listed company yesterday also acknowledged striking similarities with the product and apologised to both its customers and to Ubuntu Baba owner Shannon McLaughlin.
In a statement, Woolworths said it had met with McLaughlin and had completed an investigation into the alleged copy of the design and pattern.
“While there are differences in our baby carrier, there are striking similarities, which we acknowledge and take responsibility for. This is not in line with our values and goes against the very clear policy and creative guidelines we have in place for our design process,” the company said.
It said it was addressing this lapse in process internally, and said it was intensifying and strengthening the training of its employees, suppliers and partners on its "values-based approach to the design and sourcing process’’.
McLaughlin took to her blog on Monday to air her frustration on how Woolworths had allegedly “shamelessly copied the complete design and concept of the baby carrier”.
She also accused Woolworths of buying Google Adwords keywords related to the names of her baby carriers.
“Why would a big corporate go to such effort to try and copy my product and leverage off my marketing? This feels wrong on so many levels?” she said.
Woolworths was selling the baby carriers for R450, a third of the price that she sold hers, because they were made in China, while she manufactures hers locally in her little factory in Retreat, Western Cape.
The blog resulted in the company receiving backlash on Twitter.
It was not the first time the company had been accused of plagiarism. In 2012 the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Woolworths’ vintage cold drink range was an imitation of Frankie’s Olde Soft Drink Company based in Pietermaritzburg.
Although Woolworths maintains that it remained deeply committed to the development of small business in South Africa, Proudly SA, whose mandate is to influence consumers to buy local and stimulate job creation, said the replication of products was discouraging for small business.
Proudly SA’s chief marketing officer, Happy MaKhumalo Ngidi, said that Proudly SA deplored any unlawful replication of material that had been copyrighted, trademarked or patented.
“Proudly SA believes it is the responsibility of both the private and public sectors to minimise the barriers to growth for all small to medium enterprises in our country,” said Ngidi.