CAPE TOWN - Civil rights lobby group Open Shuhada Street yesterday lodged a complaint with the office of the consumer protector that health retailer Wellness Warehouse and pharmaceutical giant SDV Pharmaceuticals were misleading consumers by selling a falsely branded product.

The lobby group, which has also laid charges with the police, said the case would also be investigated by the Commercial Crimes Unit.

The group is a South African initiative that campaigns for full civil rights for all Israelis and Palestinians.

Shuhada Street is the main road in Hebron, which Palestinians have been prohibited from entering. The group is arguing that Wellness Warehouse and SDV Pharmaceuticals have been misleading consumers by selling Ahava skin-care products carrying false labels of origin.

According to Open Shuhada Street spokesman Daniel Kamen, Ahava products carry a label saying they are "made in Israel" when in fact they are produced by Dead Sea Laboratories in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank called Mitzpe Shalem.

"According to the United Nations, the US and even the Israeli Supreme Court, the West Bank is not part of Israel. It is occupied Palestinian territory," Mr Kamen said.

"This therefore constitutes a false trade description under South African trade law, as defined in section 7 of the Merchandise Marks Act." Mr Kamen said Open Shuhada Street would ask that the police ensure that Wellness Warehouse and SDV Pharmaceuticals stop the marketing, sale, distribution and importation of Ahava products until their labels have been corrected to read "Made in an illegal Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory".

He said the lobby group would also request that the police investigate SDV Pharmaceuticals to check if it had paid the proper excise taxes and customs duties because Ahava products did not originate from Israel, but from the occupied Palestinian territories.

Mr Kamen said it was the view of Open Shuhada Street that Wellness Warehouse, SDV Pharmaceuticals and any other retailer, importer or business that used Ahava products for commercial purposes were doing so in violation of international law and South African law.

Wellness Warehouse CE Sean Gomes said he had contacted SDV Pharmaceuticals to inquire if "this indeed was the case".

"We have also contacted the Department of Trade and Industry to get guidance on this matter," Mr Gomes said yesterday.

"We want to do the correct thing but right now we need guidance from our suppliers (SDV Pharmaceuticals) and the government," he said.

SDV Pharmaceuticals declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

phakathib@bdfm.co.za