ACCC takes action against ex-franchisor

The former Geowash franchisor is in the ACCC's sights over alleged misleading representations and unconscionable conduct.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has applied to the Federal Court for leave to start legal proceedings against Geowash Pty Ltd (subject to deed of company arrangement), a former national car wash franchisor that marketed and sold hand car wash franchises between 2013 and December 2016.  

Inside Franchise Business understands that the ACCC’s allegations relate to conduct which took place prior to the appointment of the new franchisor who has no connection with Sanam Ali or Charles Cameron, both named in the ACCC action, and that no allegations have been made regarding the new franchisor.

The ACCC proceedings will allege that the former Geowash franchisor made false or misleading representations and engaged in unconscionable conduct in breach of the Australian Consumer Law, and also failed to comply with the good faith obligation which is contained in the Franchising Code of Conduct.

The ACCC will also allege that the former Geowash franchisor’s director, Sanam Ali, and national franchising manager, Charles Cameron, engaged in and were knowingly concerned in the conduct.   

In particular, the ACCC will allege that from at least November 2015 to May 2016, the former Geowash franchisor made false or misleading representations on its website that:

  • prospective franchisees could make revenues of $70,216 and estimated profits of $30,439 in an average 28-day period, when the former Geowash franchisor did not have reasonable grounds for making those representations; and

  • the former Geowash franchisor had a commercial relationship or affiliation with each of Nissan, Kia, Renault, Audi, Emirates, Shell, Hertz, Holden, Ikea, and Thrifty, when it did not.

The ACCC will also allege that the former Geowash franchisor directed a substantial portion of franchisee funds for purposes not permitted under the franchise agreement and not disclosed to franchisees, including payment of commissions to Ali and Cameron.

ACCC deputy chair Dr Michael Schaper said “The ACCC investigated Geowash’s conduct following complaints from franchisees alleging that they had been misled about their establishment costs, and ultimately had not been provided with an operating car wash franchise.

“The ACCC was particularly concerned that, allegedly, franchisee funds were used for purposes other than those permitted by the franchise agreements, including as commissions paid to the director and franchise manager,” Dr Schaper said.  

If granted leave to commence proceedings against the former Geowash franchisor, the ACCC will seek declarations, injunctions, an order for the payment of pecuniary penalties, orders for non-party consumer redress, corrective notice orders, and costs.

The ACCC will also seek orders disqualifying both Sanam Ali and Charles Cameron from managing corporations for a period of five years.

If leave is granted, these proceedings will be the second court action recently taken by the ACCC alleging a breach of the good faith obligation by a franchisor.