Reckitt Benckiser hit with double dose of problems in Korea, Australia

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Reckitt Benckiser has been hit with two major scandals over the weekend as the British consumer healthcare and drug company is forced to apologize for misleading customers and selling products that killed or injured people.

In its first penalty, the company has been fined A$1.7 million ($1.3 million) in Australia for misleading customers over its Nurofen (ibuprofen) tablets by marketing the med as being able to target specific pains--something it cannot actually do.

The fine, levied by Australia's Federal Court, was less than the A$6 million the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had sought last year, when the company was first hauled up for the misleading practice and potential fines were being mulled over.

Reckitt said its Nurofen Specific Pain products were each formulated to treat a specific type of pain--but each in fact contained the identical ibuprofen lysine 342mg ingredient.

Nurofen told the BBC that it “did not intend to mislead customers.”

Meanwhile, the company has had far more serious problems in South Korea, and today (Monday, May 2) it apologized and accepted responsibility for selling deadly disinfectants that killed or injured about 180 people.

South Korea is investigating the deaths from mysterious lung ailments, which were discovered back in 2011. The company had originally refused to take responsibility, but has now changed tact.

According to news wire Associated Press, Reckitt Benckiser was found to have made products that “caused the most injuries among the 221 confirmed victims, 95 of whom died.” 

In a statement, RB said: “We have accepted full responsibility for the role that this product played in these health issues, including deaths, in Korea and while we acknowledge that we cannot repair the harm that has been done, we have stated our continuing intention to do whatever we can to provide full resolution to these cases.

“We have announced today our intention to establish a Compensation Fund for those directly impacted, to be administered by independent experts, and a Humanitarian Fund for all others who believe they have been affected by the HS issue, regardless of any indication of causation. RB continues to assist and support investigations into this issue.

“RB has made improvements to its safety teams and has introduced new processes which will signal any potential issue as soon as possible, so corrective action can be taken. We want to reassure consumers we have taken significant steps to ensure the safety of our products and to avoid any possibility of recurrence.”

Ongoing investigations into the deaths and injuries continue. 

- check out the BBC’s coverage
- see AP’s take