(NaturalNews) A suit brought by the city attorney's office in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego, has resulted in Whole Foods being ordered to pay nearly $800,000 in settlement fees. The supermarket specializing in natural and organic foods was accused of charging more than the advertised price for a variety of items, according to a report by San Jose Mercury News.
"The consumer protection case was brought against Whole Foods Market California Inc. and Mrs. Gooch's Natural Food Markets Inc., the two subsidiaries of Whole Foods Market Inc. that operate its California stores," reported USA Today.
An investigation by weights and measures inspectors employed with the state and Los Angeles County, concluded that Whole Foods "failed to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up charges for self-serve foods at the salad bar and hot bar, giving customers less weight than the amount stated on the label for packaged items sold by the pound."
The settlement also alleged that Whole Foods broke the law by selling its prepared deli foods by the piece rather than the weight.
According to prosecutors, "The pricing discrepancies violated consumer protection laws regarding false advertising and unfair competition."
Due to the recent findings discovered through a year-long investigation in which Whole Foods cooperated, the company has been ordered to appoint "state coordinators" to oversee pricing at all of the 74 stores located throughout California for the next five years.
At least one state coordinator will be employed at each Whole Foods to oversee pricing. The coordinator will be responsible for conducting random audits four times per year, ensuring the grocery chain is meeting and complying with company policies.
Whole Foods will pay $630,000 in civil penalties, $100,000 to a statewide consumer protection trust fund, and $68,394 for fees racked up during the investigation. The city attorneys for Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego will also receive $210,000 in compensation.
"We're taking action to assure consumers get what they pay for," sad Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer in a statement to San Jose Mercury News.
"No consumer should ever be overcharged by their local market," he added.
The supermarket chain headquartered in Austin, Texas, said after reviewing their records in addition to the investigation's records, they admitted mispricing items, but only 2 percent of the time.
"Based on a review of our own records and a sampling of inspection reports from various city and county inspectors throughout California, our pricing on weighed and measured items was accurate 98 percent of the time," said Marci Frumkin, executive marketing coordinator for the company's Southern Pacific Region.
"While we realize that human error is always possible, we will continue to refine and implement additional processes to minimize such errors going forward. Whole Foods Market takes our obligations to our customers very seriously, and we strive to ensure accuracy and transparency in everything we do," added Frumkin.
Whole Foods' dependency on prison labor
According to Fortune Magazine, Whole Foods is among many retailers that purchase artisanal foods produced by prison laborers. In addition to producing furniture for government offices, prisoners are now providing labor for local boutique-size businesses.
"Prison labor has gone artisanal," said Fortune Magazine.
Haystack Mountain, a Colorado goat cheese maker turned to prison labor after they were unable to find enough local workers to help milk goats. Struggling to keep up with consumer demand, Haystack Mountain now uses six inmates from Colorado Correctional Facilities to milk 1,000 goats twice a day.
Non-inmate employees cultivate the cheese, which is then sold to Whole Foods and other food retailers.