If Australian consumers can't get what they pay for, what does that mean for Indonesians?

Back in December, I posed the question: what's worse than paying peanuts and getting monkeys?

You can feel free to read the post, but the the tl;dr version is: paying good money, and still getting monkeys. I used this English saying to illustrate the gap in Indonesia's institutions that hold Indonesia's producers and retailers to account for delivering products as advertised. I contrasted Indonesia's institutions with Australia's, and made the claim that Australia's institutions were more credible than Indonesia's, meaning Australians were more likely to get better products at the right price than Indonesians.

The other day, a friend shared the following picture on Facebook, put out by CHOICE, an Australian, independent consumer organisation.

You can read CHOICE's full write-up here. In short, inspired by a similar test conducted in the United Kingdom, CHOICE decided to test 12 different packets of oregano from supplier that, in aggregate, make up more than 80% of the brand value of the herbs and spices market in Australia. Of those 12, only five were 100% oregano. The 7 that were not are pictured above.

While CHOICE has no authority to leverage fines, or impose direct penalties, the brand damage that can result from revelations like this can be severe. 

I wanted to use this to illustrate that the presence of Australia's institutions like CHOICE, the ACCC, and so on alone does not mean that unscrupulous retailers and suppliers won't try to misrepresent the contents or quality of their goods, but it increases the chance of detection, and the threat of bad publicity, fines, or even criminal charges if they are caught doing so.

So, while revelations like this are embarrassing, and you don't want to see them too often, they are evidence that the system works, and a good warning to people throughout the supply chain that they'd better be sure they're selling what they claim to be selling.

My other favourite example of this from a developing country was the New York Times's expose of sellers of herbal supplements in New York. They reported that  the New York State Attorney General's Office had "run tests on popular store brands of herbal supplements at the retailers ā€” Walmart, Walgreens, Target and GNC ā€” which showed that roughly four out of five of the products contained none of the herbs listed on their labels. In many cases, the authorities said, the supplements contained little more than cheap fillers like rice and house plants, or substances that could be hazardous to people with food allergies." [emphasis mine]

So, if things like this can happen in Australia and the United States, where there is the credible threat of exposure, and massive bad publicity, imagine what it must be like in Indonesia, where no such credible threat exists!

As always, caveat emptor!