Australian Potato Wholesaler Fined Over Unfair Contracts
The Federal Court ruled that certain terms of contracts between Australian potato wholesaler, Mitolo Group Pty Ltd. and potato growers entered into between December 2016 and February 2018 were unfair contract terms and therefore void, following proceedings brought by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission).
The Court ordered that Mitolo pay a penalty of AUD240,000 for contraventions of the Horticulture Code of Conduct in relation to 19 contracts entered into with potato growers, arising from Mitolo trading pursuant to contracts which did not specify the time in which the price was to be agreed with growers in writing. Mitolo was also ordered to pay the ACCC’s costs in the amount of AUD50,000.
The contract terms which were declared to be unfair included terms that allowed Mitolo to unilaterally determine or vary the price Mitolo paid farmers for potatoes, unilaterally vary other contractual terms, declare potatoes as “wastage” without a mechanism for proper review, and prevent farmers from selling potatoes to alternative purchasers.
The Court also declared that terms in Mitolo’s contracts preventing farmers from selling their own property unless the prospective purchaser entered into an exclusive potato farming agreement with Mitolo were unfair contract terms.
“This is the first Court imposed penalty for a contravention of the new Horticulture Code,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.
In addition to the orders made by the Court, Mitolo provided the ACCC with a court enforceable undertaking which contains a revised form of contract. Mitolo has undertaken to contract with growers on terms no less favourable than the revised contract terms, which are annexed to the undertaking.
“The new Mitolo contract terms are intended to provide potato growers with greater transparency and certainty over pricing, and allow them to sell potatoes to other parties if they are not satisfied with the price received from Mitolo,” Keogh said.
In resolving this matter, Mitolo made admissions to the Court and made joint submissions with the ACCC in relation to the appropriate penalty to be imposed.