26. Apr 17

Breach of competition law due to lack of labelling on energy consumption

Electronic appliances that can be seen on display but lack labelling on energy consumption constitute a violation of competition law. That was the verdict of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), Germany’s Federal Supreme Court (Az.: I ZR 213/15).

Consumers have become accustomed to seeing household electronic appliances such as fridges, washing machines and ovens displaying information on energy consumption. The energy efficiency of an appliance can be critical to the decision whether or not to buy it. Accordingly, merchants are obligated to affix an appropriate label concerning energy consumption to exhibited household electronic appliances. In its ruling of December 15, 2016, the Bundesgerichtshof held that the merchants in question are in breach of competition law if this label is missing.

In the instant case, a merchant had displayed various electronic appliances such as fridges, dish washers, washing machines and ovens in its shop. Because the appliances did not feature the required labelling on energy consumption, the merchant received a formal written warning. The BGH subsequently ruled that the lack of labelling constituted a violation of competition law.

The Court stated that energy-related products need to be labelled with information relating to the appliances’ energy consumption. It went on to say that this labelling requirement applies if the appliances are put on display for customers in such a way that the latter can see them, i.e. either unpacked or wrapped in a clear film. If, on the other hand, the appliances are still in cardboard packaging, the BGH held that the labelling requirement does not apply, as the appliances are not immediately visible to consumers due to the packaging’s lack of transparency. In this situation, it was said that the appliances are not exhibited in the manner necessary for the labelling requirement to apply.

The Karlsruhe judges further noted that the labelling requirement for energy-related appliances is supposed to protect consumers, with the labelling informing them about a device’s energy consumption and thus potentially helping consumers to decide whether or not to purchase it. The judges also pointed out, however, that there is no such obligation in relation to labelling on the packaging, stating that an appliance is considered to be on display if there is no obstruction to it being visibly perceived. This was said not to be the case with respect to products in non-transparent packaging.

Violations of competition law can be met with severe penalties. Formal written warnings, injunction suits and claims for damages are all possible consequences. The law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte boasts a team of lawyers who are versed in the field of competition law and can enforce or fend off claims arising from violations of competition law.

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