Top Product Scandals of 2017 (So Far)
If the Spring Festival Gala is CCTV’s annual celebration of everything glittery and harmonious in the motherland, the “315 Gala” would be its evil twin. For 26 years, this TV spectacle has been exposing misconducts of Chinese business world on the evening of March 15, also known as World Consumer Rights Day. Local governments and law enforcement usually follow up the very next day by investigating and cracking downs on the unlucky companies and brands on the show—if only reality shows were this satisfying.
Co-produced by CCTV, China Consumer’s Association, and more than a dozen government agencies including the Supreme People’s Court, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Commerce, the “315 Gala” aims to raise awareness of consumer rights and communicate the government’s determination to regulate the market. Investigative footage captured by hidden cameras and teary testimonies from victimized consumers are ratings-grabbing highlights from the gala. Over the years, from bakery selling expired bread to toxic stationary, from false TCM adverting to fire extinguishers produced on the cheap, the show has exposed scandals across various industries,. Major foreign big brands aren’t safe either: Nikon, Apple, Carrefour, Jaguar, and Volkswagen have all ended up on air, just to name a few.
So who has made it onto the blacklist on this year’s edition of the gala, which aired last night? And what do they say about China’s current consumer market? Let have a look.
Self-proclaimed “world’s largest Chinese encyclopedia website,” Baike.com was exposed on the show for listing paid promotional content on medicine, healthcare products, medical organization, and medical personals. Baike has soon apologized via its official Weibo account and promised to re-evaluate their userbase. The company is also currently under investigation by the Beijing police.
K.S. Light Technology (科视视光)
Under the pretext of free vision tests, K.S. was accused of collected personal information of over 130,000 primary, middle, and high school students and encouraged many of them to wear a “cornea-shaping lens” which, if not prescribed or worn properly, could cause serious cornea infection. Law enforcement in the city of Zhengzhou has swiftly closed down K.S. and two other pharmaceutical companies mentioned on the gala.
This brand of fodder claims to be able to put 1.5kg of weight on a pig daily. It was said to contain olaquindox, a banned chemical for animal fodder, and excessive diludine, a chemical that’s strictly regulated.
It was stated on the gala that the packages on some foods sold in Muji supermarkets were relabeled with a sticker put over their original production area to hide the fact that they come from banned areas for food importation due to the Fukushima nuclear accident. Muji has denied the accusation, saying that the gala mistook their company address for the actual production area.
Nike’s “Zoom Air” basketball shoes were said to lack air cushions. Nike’s response is to offer a full refund for the item while refusing to admit false advertising, only that they listed “the wrong description of the product.”
International Mother and Baby Health Association
There is currently high demand in China for maternity matrons, caretakers hired to look after new mothers and babies. This organization is accused of being a certificate mill that issues maternal matron training certificates for a stack of red notes. It’s said that without having to attend a single lecture, you can get certified as a senior maternal and infant caretaker for 1,380 RMB.
Runjiu Bio-Tech Company (润九生物技术公司)
Targeting the elderly, this company claims its propolis (i.e. resinous substance collected by bees) capsules can cure diabetes in 90 days, and can supposedly be found on the market for more than 60 times its sticker price of 65 RMB per box. The company also developed a marketing strategy where they lure people with high commission fees to become “lecturers” to promote the product across the country. The company’s web page on Alibaba, the largest B2B e-commerce website in China, has been taken down since the gala.
It’s certainly cathartic to watch these high-profile exposés and see efforts going in fighting these problems, but it’s no more than the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fixing problems in the Chinese consumer market.