January 10, 2019 / 1:08 PM / 6 months ago

South Africa's Woolworths pulls baby carriers after copying scandal

Shoppers walk into a Woolworths store at a shopping center in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, file. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African retailer Woolworths has removed a baby carrier from its shelves, admitting it had “striking similarities” to a product offered by a small boutique retailer.

The company found itself at the centre of a media storm this week after the owner of Ubuntu Baba, Shannon McLaughlin, wrote a blog post stating that Woolworths was selling a product of the same colour, design and name as hers, for a third of the price.

“While there are differences in our baby carrier, there are striking similarities which we acknowledge and take responsibility for,” the firm said in a statement, sent to Reuters on Thursday.

It apologised to McLaughlin and customers over the issue, which it said went against its policy, and said the lapse was being addressed internally, including via the training of staff, suppliers and partners.

The incident has been embarrassing for the retailer, which was embroiled in a copying scandal in 2016 when South Africa’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled the packaging on a range of its soft drinks imitated that of small drinks firm Frankies.

McLaughlin told Reuters on Thursday while she was pleased the carriers had been withdrawn, a number of other individuals had been in touch with her to say large firms, including Woolworths, had done something similar with their products.

“It can’t just end there,” she said, adding it needed to publicly state what steps it is going to take to prevent this from happening again.

Reporting by Emma Rumney; editing by David Evans

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