Just When We Thought The Watsons Case Was Over, Bloomberg Writer Reveals Bigger Concerns
In a final wrap-up to the Panadol fiasco, Minter revealed that he actually returned to the Watsons branch he bought the re-sealed Panadol from, only to discover that not only were they still displaying the tampered-with packages, the box he returned was placed back on the shelf.
"Out of curiosity, I returned to the Watsons outlet where I’d bought that bottle of Panadol, looking to see if the chain was still selling tampered-with packages. What I found astounded me: not only were they selling a tampered-with package – they were selling the very same bottle of Panadol I had returned to the store several days earlier for having been tampered with (easily identifiable due to the serial number on the box)!" he wrote in the wrap-up post.shanghaiscrap.com
Thankfully, the matter was later rectified when Watsons contacted Minter on Thursday afternoon (12 February), which the writer noted came as a surprise after his attempts to reach them in the past few weeks went ignored
When contacted, Minter informed Watsons' representative that the returned (and opened) bottle of Panadol he had purchased was placed back on the shelf. Later, he was told that the operation team had reviewed CCTV footage from the store, confirming that the bottle was placed back on display. Watsons' rep further reassured Minter that the violation of Standard Operating Procedure will not happen again in the future.
"Why did they only get around to calling me on Thursday? Because the says.com post had gone viral. In fact, by Thursday night, it was really viral... which might explain why they called again that night at 10 PM."shanghaiscrap.com
However, in regards to the lack of safety seals on the bottles, it was revealed that they were actually shipped that way by the manufacturers of Panadol, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as per local packaging standards
Speaking to a company representative from GSK, Minter learnt that the company ships unsealed bottles of Panadol to Watsons Malaysia which are merely secured with a clear seal on the box, which Minter noted is "a piece of clear tape that’s easily peeled away". According to the rep, however, the packaging actually meets local legal standards.
Minter further divulged that people began tweeting similar experiences after the story of his unfortunate encounter began going viral on social media, citing that they deserve responses from Watsons as well
"It’s been a rough week for Watsons. But of course the only reason that they felt bound to respond to me is that my tweets and blog went viral thanks to says.com. Had that not happened, Danny Hoh [Head of Marketing] would never have called me. Meanwhile, in the days since the says.com post, I’ve received tweets and tweets from customers of Watsons Malaysia who purchased or encountered broken seals on the company’s products."shanghaiscrap.com
Just like @AdamMinter, a product I bought from Watsons was tempered. It was with a broken seal and an empty bottle.— Lydia Natasha Aida (@NatashaAida) February 12, 2015
@AdamMinter hi Adam, it is sad to see such incident happened to you. I do shop a lot at Watson and yes I did come across such packaging too.— Danny Khoo (@DannyKhoo1) February 13, 2015
As the Bloomberg columnist puts it, "They deserve responses, just as much as I received mine. Will Watsons take the trouble to find them? Or will they, too, have to go viral to get Asia’s largest personal care chain, and one of the world’s largest drug companies, to take notice?"
After Twitter Disaster Erupts, Watsons Malaysia Apologises And Sets The Record Straight
In a statement posted on its official Facebook page today, Watsons Malaysia has disputed the authenticity of the @watsonsmalaysia Twitter account, explaining that the replies to Adam Minter do not represent their official views
The company has also reached out to Minter to apologise as well as to outline the steps they are progressively taking to ensure product safety in their stores.
Most importantly, Watsons stated that products with broken seals have been removed from the shelves and in-store employees have been re-briefed on security tagging procedures to ensure product quality and safety
"We have removed all Panadols from shelves where security seals have been inadvertently broken. We have also reiterated to all stores to follow our normal practice," Watsons Malaysia said in a press statement.
Broken safety seals on over-the-counter medication are no joke. As the Chicago Tylenol murders in 1982 can attest, safety seals on medical packaging are essential to prevent its content from being tampered with and cause irreversible damage to consumers.
In Chicago 1982, seven people died after consuming Tylenol-branded acetaminophen capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide. Tampered-with bottles were found to have come from different factories, thus the culprit was believed to have acquired bottles of Tylenol from various supermarkets and drug stores over a period of several weeks, added the cyanide to the capsules, then returned to the stores to place the bottles back on the shelves.
The incidents led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter substances and to federal anti-tampering laws.
Unfortunately, a local Watsons branch did not seem to get the memo. A tweet from Bloomberg View writer Adam Minter alleged that bottles of Panadol were being sold with broken safety seals.
Minter - who is currently based in Malaysia - brought the issue to light on Twitter late last month and even documented the series of events on his personal blog, 'Shanghai Scrap'
In addition to his work with Bloomberg, Minter covers a range of topics for publications that have included The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic. His first book, 'Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade' is a critically acclaimed and best-selling insider’s account of the hidden world of globalized recycling, from the US to China and points in between.shanghaiscrap.com
On 31 January, Minter purchased a bottle of Panadol from a local Watsons branch only to discover that the box's safety seal had been cut open and re-sealed. He opened the box anyway, only to discover that the bottle within is lacking its safety seal as well!
Minter noted that this is a serious safety violation, as such conduct is in contrast with FDA (Food and Drug Administration) guidelines in the US. Packaging standards of over-the-counter medication outlined by the FDA is believed to have been adopted all over the world, including Malaysia.
He further explained that without a safety seal, the package is deemed to be unsafe and anybody could have altered the contents within.
Naturally, Minter returned to the store. Before bringing his bottle to the counter, he checked the other boxes of Panadol on the shelves and surprise, surprise! The seals have been broken too!
When asked about the broken seals, the explanation offered was absolutely astounding - the boxes have been open so as to insert security tabs that will set off the store's alarms if they are not deactivated at the register. This in itself is pretty mind-boggling - instead of cutting open and inserting the security tabs into the box, why didn't the store's staff simple stick it on the outside of the box?
When Minter pointed out that doing so violated safety precautions that have been built into the packaging, he was offered a refund. BUT no apology was made, nor was there any indication that the store would take steps to respect the safety seals in the future.
"I pointed out that in doing so they were violating the seal (and the safety) that GSK (Panadol’s manufacturer) had built into the packaging. In response, I was offered a refund," Minter wrote in his blog post.
"No apologies, much less promises to respect the safety that GSK built into the packaging of its products. Just a refund, and an attitude that can be best described as 'now get the @#$% out of our store'."
Later that day, Minter brought the issue to the attention of Watsons Malaysia's Twitter account. Instead of apologising, the reply seemed to perpetuate that breaking open the seal is "fine" as long as the strips within the boxes are not affected
Note that Minter previously stated that the item he had purchased is actually in the form of a bottle.
Minter replied with his discovery that the rest of the boxes have been opened with the bottles lacking safety seals, calling it a "shameful negligence"... only to be accused of "provoking" the issue by Watsons!
The social media exchange took a turn for the worst when Twitter user @special_tasks pointed out that Watsons should be looking into the problem instead of critising Minter for bringing the issue to public attention
In his blog post, Minter pointed out that the account is not verified and only has 90+ followers unlike its Facebook page. However, Watsons Malaysia did not respond to any of his enquiries in regards to the authenticity of the Twitter account in question.
"I reached out to Watsons Malaysia via phone, email (a Watsons phone operators gave me the address of a press contact at the company), Facebook, and Twitter with the same question – is @watsonsmalaysia a company-run twitter account?" he wrote.
"Presumably, if the account wasn’t affiliated with Watsons, the company would’ve been quick to tell me so. Instead, they’re ignoring me. That is, no response to any of my inquiries – precisely the kind of behavior I expect from somebody who doesn’t believe there’s any reason to explain anything (such as the stubborn druggists at … Watsons Malaysia)."
The ensuing conversation has since caught the attention of Malaysians on social media
Watsons Malaysia may be bad on social media, but the real problem lies in the particular store's disregard for drug packaging standards and consumers' safety. If left unchecked, local consumers may be at risk of purchasing tampered-with medicine.
As Minter put it, "At least one branch of Asia’s largest “personal care” chain is altering the packaging of a widely used drug in a way that makes it unsafe to consumers. That they’ve chosen to ignore good faith efforts to remedy this failure is all the evidence anybody should need to decide that Watsons doesn’t much care about consumer safety."shanghaiscrap.com