AUTH/2279/11/09 - Voluntary admission by Procter & Gamble

Breach of undertaking

  • Received
    23 November 2009
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    25 January 2010
  • Breach Clause(s)
    2, 9.1 and 25
  • Sanctions applied
    Undertaking received
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal
  • Review
    February 2010

Case Summary

Procter & Gamble voluntarily admitted a breach of the Code in that an exhibition guide, which should have been withdrawn pursuant to Case AUTH/2267/9/09, was put into the delegate bags for an international congress held in the UK.

The Authority’s Constitution and Procedure provided that a voluntary admission should be treated as a complaint if it related to a potentially serious breach of the Code or if the company failed to take action to address the matter. The reuse of material previously ruled in breach was a serious matter and the admission was accordingly treated as a complaint.

Procter & Gamble explained that in Case AUTH/2267/9/09, the strapline ‘Confidence in Colitis’ was ruled in breach of the Code. As a result, Procter & Gamble immediately recalled and destroyed all relevant materials. After executing a robust and thorough recall process, Procter & Gamble was confident that as per the undertaking, signed on 28 October, these materials were last used on 10 November. However on 18 November, it was discovered that owing to an individual human error the exhibition guide, which contained an Asacol advertisement with the strapline ‘Confidence in Colitis’, had been overlooked. The exhibition guide had been approved prior to the Panel’s ruling but was printed after the Panel’s ruling and placed in delegate bags ready for the congress which opened on 21 November.

As soon as it knew of the error Procter & Gamble tried to stop the exhibition guide being distributed. The conference organiser was immediately informed of the situation. Agency workers were allowed into the exhibition centre overnight to remove the material from the delegate bags. No access to the delegate bags was allowed whilst the corrective action was being undertaken and the conference organiser oversaw the removal of material in order to ensure that there was no mixing of ‘old’ and ‘amended’ delegate bags. Two company employees were sent to the conference venue the next morning (20 November) to ensure that all of the exhibition guides in question were removed and destroyed. However a sample audit of approximately 5,000 out of the 14,000 delegate showed that a very small minority of delegate bags still contained the exhibition guides at issue.

Procter & Gamble acknowledged that the undertaking was an important document and that this incident was a significant error on its behalf, hence the actions that were immediately implemented as soon as it knew about the situation. As a matter of high priority its standard operating procedure for the recall of promotional materials would be revisited and revised to ensure that all employees followed procedures correctly so incidences such as this one could never happen again.

The detailed response from Procter & Gamble is given below.

The Panel noted that Procter & Gamble had agreed to the printing of the exhibition guide on 15 October and printing commenced on 27 October. Procter & Gamble had been advised of the Panel’s ruling in Case AUTH/2267/9/09 on 20 October and the company signed the undertaking on 28 October. The last use of the material at issue was to be 10 November.

The Panel was concerned that the exhibition guide was not included on a job bag tracker spreadsheet. This appeared to be the root cause of the problem. No details were given about how the error came to light on 18 November. The Panel considered that once the error had been identified, Procter & Gamble had made every effort to withdraw the material. Nonetheless when the conference delegates started to arrive on 20 November a small number of delegate bags still contained the exhibition guide in question.

The Panel considered that Procter & Gamble had breached its undertaking and a breach of the Code was ruled as acknowledged by the company. By failing to list the material on the job bag tracker spreadsheet the Panel considered that high standards had not been maintained and a breach of the Code was ruled as acknowledged by Procter & Gamble.

Notwithstanding the considerable action taken by Procter & Gamble to withdraw the material, together with the timing of the printing of the exhibition guide and the provision of the undertaking, the Panel considered that the failure to list the material on the job bag tracker spreadsheet and the resultant distribution of a small number of the exhibition guides reduced confidence in the pharmaceutical industry. A breach of Clause 2 of the Code was ruled.