By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Woolworths and the Ubuntu Baba saga.
That’s down to two things – Shannon McLaughlin detailing what it felt like to see Woolies replicate and flog her baby carrier design, and the power of social media.
Seriously, you have to feel a little sorry for the people managing the Woolies social media accounts. They didn’t order two baby carriers, steal the design and pass it off as their own – that was the Woolworths Sourcing Administrator and the Woolworths Product Developer.
The good news is that yesterday, representatives from Woolies sat down with Shannon. She has now detailed what transpired in that meeting in another blog post, excerpts of which you can see below:
I met with Woolworths today [January 9] and our conversations centered around the Woolworths baby carriers in relation to my Ubuntu Baba baby carriers.
In light of all the social media attention and media coverage, a number of small business owners and entrepreneurs had contacted me to say that they are going through similar issues (or have previously gone through similar issues) with Woolworths. I am now sure that this issue is bigger than just Woolworths copying my Ubuntu Baba carriers, and it needs to be addressed.
Big corporations, like Woolworths, should NOT be allowed to take advantage of local SME’s the way that they have clearly been doing. Instead, they should be looking into ways where they can support, rather than hinder small businesses in South Africa.
At the end of this really long and challenging day, I’ve come to realize that I have an opportunity to help make sure that big corporations, like Woolworths, make an honest commitment and ACTIVELY take steps to promote and empower SME’s in South Africa and to keep their promises, do what they say they will do, and be true to themselves, local SME’s and their customers.
This is what I will be discussing with Woolworths over the upcoming days and I will keep you posted. Our discussions are still ongoing and Woolworths have asked that they remain confidential at this time.
As per their social media updates, Woolworths have withdrawn the product from their shelves and online shop, and have personally apologized to me for the time it took for them to address my initial complaint, as well as the striking similarities of the products in question.
In short, discussions are ongoing and it looks like Shannon is looking to act in the best interests of SME’s around the country who are tired of being bullied by the big guys.
For what it’s worth, here’s the full Woolworths apology, taken from their Facebook page:
We met with Ubuntu Baba today and have completed our investigation into the allegations of copying.
While there are differences in our baby carrier, there are striking similarities which we acknowledge and take responsibility for. This is not in line with our values and goes against the very clear policy and creative guidelines we have in place for our design process. This lapse in process is being addressed internally. We are intensifying and strengthening the training of our people, our suppliers and partners on our values-based approach to the design and sourcing process.
We have sincerely apologised to Shannon personally and we would like to offer our heartfelt apologies to our customers who expect more from us.
We are removing all product from our stores and online. Customers who wish to return their product may do so for a full refund.
We remain deeply committed to the development of small businesses in South Africa.
“Deeply committed”, although only when Shannon’s post went viral did they take action.
Given that they’ve been accused of similar behaviour for years now, perhaps this will finally be the incident that sparks some actual introspection with regards how they handle “sourcing” and “product development”.
Of course, all those Facebook and Twitter cries of ‘BOYCOTT WOOLIES’ online will last about two weeks, before it’s back to business as usual, but they now know that they are operating under a microscope.
Keep sticking it to them, Shannon, and hopefully there will be some real change going forward.
UPDATE: Here’s Shannon’s interview with on Radio702 earlier this morning:
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