GlaxoSmithKline, the world's second largest food and pharmaceutical company, has been charged with breaching New Zealand's Fair Trading Act after being caught out by two 14-year-old girls doing a school science project, a newspaper reported Saturday.
Students Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo, of Auckland's Pakuranga College, found the company's ready-to-drink Ribena contained minimal amounts of vitamin C, contrary to claims in its television commercials.
The company will appear in Auckland District Court Tuesday charged with 15 breaches of the Fair Trading Act, which could bring fines of 200,000 New Zealand dollars (about $142,000) on each charge, the Weekend Herald reported.
GSK's Australian division this week admitted to fair trading authorities there that it had made misleading claims for Ribena.
The charges in New Zealand have been brought by the watchdog Commerce Commission, who the girls approached after the company shrugged off their report in 2004 that each 100ml of Ribena contained about 22mg of vitamin C. The company had promoted the product by claiming that black currants had four times the vitamin C of oranges, the newspaper said.
It quoted the Commerce Commission as saying that although black currants had more vitamin C than oranges, the same was not true of Ribena and alleged its testing found ready-to-drink Ribena contained no detectable level of vitamin C.
"It's completely unbelievable," Jenny Suo, now 17, told the Weekend Herald. "It's pretty crazy when you realise how much power you can have, as a kid as well."
She said the girls had since visited the company where they were thanked "for bringing it to our attention."