The ACCC is coming for Thermomix

Comedian Kate McCartney contemplates a Thermomix in the YouTube satire The Katering Show. Screenshot

The Australian distributors of cult kitchen gadget Thermomix are being taken to court by consumer watchdog the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC).

The ACCC is alleging that Thermomix, which is estimated to be worth around $60 million in Australia, broke consumer law on several fronts, including misleading consumers, failing to comply with mandatory reporting requirements when people were injured using the appliance and attempting to stifle criticism by making users sign non-disclosure agreements.

The $2,000 heated blender, described by The Katering Show satirists Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan as the “gangbang of kitchen appliances” foodies must have “because you’ve always wanted to join a cult but don’t have the energy for the group sex” is not sold via normal retail channels and can only be sold via “consultants” who invite potential buyers along to demonstration parties.

The company’s problems stem from the 2014 national recall of the TM31 model amid reports that a faulty sealing ring led to a number of people being injured in Australia.

More than 100,000 machines of that model are believed to have been supplied to the Australian market.

Some people reported suffering second degree burns after the machine malfunctioned. Consumer lobby group Choice launched a “mass incident report” campaign in March 2016 and reported its findings to the ACCC.

Choice had 87 Thermomix owners report a problem with their machine, with 45 saying they were injured, and 18 of them saying they received medical treatment.

Here’s what Choice found:

The ACCC alleges that Thermomix misled customers about their consumer guarantee rights, failed to comply with mandatory reporting requirements for injuries arising from the use of the appliances, made false representations and engaged in misleading conduct regarding the safety of the TM31 model, and made false and misleading statements about its 2014 recall.

ACCC acting chair Delia Rickard said her organisation will also allege that Thermomix told some consumers it would not provide refunds or replacements, while others were told it would only happen if they signed agreements with non-disclosure terms and other terms that prevented them from making disparaging comments about the gadget.

“Consumers who have purchased a faulty product have rights under the Australian Consumer Law to remedies which businesses cannot restrict, alter, or remove, and this includes getting a repair or replacement for the product, or a refund,” Rickard said.

Choice reported that Australian lawyers acting for Thermomix wrote to customers saying the terms for a refund were strictly confidential and should not be disclosed without written consent. Customers had to agree “not to disparage or otherwise comment negatively about Thermomix or Vorwerk [the German manufacturer] and not to take any action which it is intended, or would reasonably be expected, to harm the reputation of Thermomix or Vorwerk, or lead to unwanted or unfavourable publicity”.

The ACCC also alleges Thermomix failed to notify the Commonwealth minister within two days of becoming aware that a person had suffered a serious injury associated with the use, or foreseeable misuse, of a Thermomix, and that there were 14 separate instances where Thermomix failed to give notice of serious injury incidents in the specified time frame.

“Suppliers must act swiftly to notify their customers as soon as they learn of a potential safety hazard with their products,” Rickard said.

The consumer watchdog alleges Thermomix made false representations and engaged in misleading conduct by telling consumers it was not aware of any safety issue with the TM31 and continued to offer it for sale when the problem ultimately led to the recall action in October 2014.

The ACCC also alleges that in March 2016, Thermomix “caused false or misleading statements to be made in the media about the nature of the October 2014 recall action”.

The first stage of the case is scheduled for July 21 in the Federal Court in Melbourne.

It’s not the only legal problem the business is facing, with Fairfax Media reporting that a Thermomix consultant, Elisabeth Higgins, is suing the family-owned company with the rights to sell Thermomix in Australia, claiming her business was taken away without compensation.

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