Mask scandal – consumer advocates complain about Hygiene Austria
The Association for Consumer Information (VKI) is taking action on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs against the misleading application of FFP2 masks from Hygiene Austria as “Made in Austria” in the opinion of consumer advocates. The Vienna Commercial Court should clarify whether masks bought in from China may be sold as “Made in Austria”. Hygiene Austria had partially outsourced mask production to China, but advertised production in Austria.
Consumers must be able to rely on labels in all areas, emphasized Consumer Protection and Social Affairs Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) in a broadcast on Friday. “When buying Covid protection products, you should be able to rely on the fact that what the advertising promises will actually be kept.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, the VKI has been taking action against misleading measures in all areas of the pandemic on behalf of the Ministry and is also conducting numerous test cases to clarify open questions in consumer law.
With an injunction under the UWG (Law against Unfair Competition), the court should clarify when “Made in Austria” can be advertised and when not, explains the head of the legal department at the VKI, Thomas Hirmke, to the APA. According to the VKI, masks made in China may not be labeled and sold as “Made in Austria”.
From a legal point of view, it depends on the expectation of the average consumer. There is no clear legal requirement in this regard. However, a model alone is not enough to be able to present a product as indigenous, at least according to the previous case law in Germany. Accordingly, an FFP2 mask made in China according to an Austrian model would not be a mask “Made in Austria”.
Domestic production emphasized as a special quality feature
In public, Hygiene Austria, a joint venture between Palmers and Lenzing, highlighted the domestic production of FFP2 masks as a special quality feature and emphasized that the security of supply, but also the independence of Austria through the purchase of high-quality masks in the focus of Activity. In addition, reference was made to domestic added value and the existence of 200 jobs in Austria, according to the VKI.
It was therefore specially designed that the masks of Hygiene Austria would be “Made in Austria” products. From the VKI’s point of view, this aroused special expectations among consumers. In fact, as Hygiene Austria later announced, a Chinese contract manufacturer was in some cases commissioned with the production of FFP2 masks based on the Hygiene Austria model in order to cope with an increase in demand.
“Consumers have particularly trusted that they are supporting Austrian production with their purchase and receiving local goods. This trust has been massively disappointed, as numerous complaints make clear. From our point of view, it is misleading to buy one in China based on the Austrian model A mask made to be called a ‘Made in Austria’ mask. It must be clarified in court whether such a procedure is legal, “says Hirmke.
The VKI is also examining complaints that Palmers and Hygiene Austria would not take back FFP2 masks that have already been sold. However, there has not yet been any complaint in this regard. (apa)