“It’s 16 December 2018 and I’ve just found out that Woolworths has shamelessly copied the complete design and concept of the baby carrier that I have put my heart and soul into for the last 4 years of my life,” Shannon McLaughlin, blogger and Ubuntu Baba founder, wrote in a blog post titled “Dear Woolworths, you have some explaining to do”.
Her post created an uproar around the country and begged the question of how ethical one of the world’s most trusted retailers is.
“At first glance, it looks like they’ve just used my product name ‘Stage 1’ and ‘Stage 2’ baby carrier. On closer inspection, I realise that they’re using the exact same colours, grey and navy, to my baby carrier. Upon further investigation, it appears that they have designated the terms ‘Stage 1 carrier’ and ‘Stage 2 carrier’ as Google Adword keywords,” McLaughlin wrote. “So when you search the term ‘Stage 1 carrier’ or ‘Stage 2 carrier’ – the exact names which are unique to my little business – Ubuntu Baba baby carriers and in which my business has a reputation in – Woolworths adverts come up above my organic search results.”
On Wednesday, Woolworths sat down with McLaughlin to discuss the claims that it stole the idea and designs of the baby carriers from her. The company also decided to remove the baby carrier products from its physical and online stores.
“We met with Ubuntu Baba today and have completed our investigation into the allegations of copying,” a communication from Woolworths’ press office stated. “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.”
Woolworths has also resolved to address this “lapse” 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.”
In her blog post, McLaughlin also alleged that according to her business receipts, Woolworths Head Office had purchased two of her Ubuntu Baba carriers in June of 2017.
“We have sincerely apologised to Shannon personally and we would like to offer our heartfelt apologies to our customers who expect more from us,” Woolworths said. “We are removing all product from our stores and online. Customers who wish to return their product, may do so for a full refund.”
The company reiterated that it remains deeply committed to the development of small businesses within South Africa.
Picture: Ubuntu Baba