A court in Muzaffarpur has directed that an FIR be registered against Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, besides two officials of Nestle India that produces Maggi.
Can the actors who endorsed Maggi be held liable for its harmful impact on consumers? According to the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) Act, whosoever is a party to a misleading advertisement or its publication can be fined up to Rs 10 lakh.
Bachchan said, “I stopped endorsing Maggi two years ago. I don’t endorse it anymore...I haven’t received any notice yet. As soon as I get it, I will put it up to my lawyers. We will fully cooperate with whatever the law says.”
According to the Central Consumer Protection Council (CCPC), the apex body for consumer protection in India, actors could be held liable for advertising “false claims” on products they “know to be misleading.”
The CCPC was clear that the actors’ accountability depends on knowledge; that they must have made the statements “recklessly” knowing that them to be false.
While celebrity endorsement contracts come with air-tight indemnity clauses, these cannot protect them against criminal liability. Contracts that go against national law are null and void, and can not be exercised by anyone.
“The ultimate liability for that does not rest with the ad makers. Like in any supply chain, everyone has his responsibilities. In this case, the responsibility for checking the food’s safety was not on ad-makers or celebrities, but on the government and the company itself. The question really is, what are they doing?” explains Anurag Agnihotri of Ogilvy & Mather communications.
As far as the law is concerned, there can not be a crime without there being criminal intention or knowledge of the possible harm to be inflicted. To be criminally liable, the celebrities must have been reckless or had knowledge of their false claims. As of now, there is no proof of either criterion applying to any of the stars.
Former Delhi high court judge RS Sodhi said: “The celebrities have merely endorsed a brand which they felt was a good product. They are not the ones who certified or tested the product. They don’t even tell you what the ingredients are...I can understand if they had openly endorsed a pill or medicine that’s proven to be harmful. But this is a product that’s freely used for decades - how would they know?
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