By Miriam Humbe
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has commended Nigeria for taking proactive and effective action against price gouging and other anti-consumer activities during the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic.
The global body gave the thumbs-up during its recent webinar on “Competition and Consumer Protection in Times of COVID-19” in which top representatives from competition and consumer protection agencies from across the world shared ideas and experiences on managing e-commerce which has witnessed a spike in usage in the wake of the pandemic.
The context for the event is the increasing dependence on digital platforms for online shopping, virtual meeting and learning purposes in the wake of the pandemic. The growing market power of digital platforms raise concerns for consumers, as well as consumer and competition law enforcers who are trying to adapt their enforcement tools and analysis to the new reality.
Nigeria, represented by Babatunde Irukera, Director General, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) was recognized for its leadership role as demonstrated by FCCPC’s early successive warnings against unfair practices and anti-market behaviour and also for its robust determination to enforce the law against any breaches.
Other participants at the forum were:
Ms. Maria Carolina Corcione, Director for Consumer Protection, Superintendence of Industry and Commerce, Colombia; Mr. Jongbae Park, Director of International Cooperation, Korea Fair Trade Commission, Republic of Korea; Ms. Alessandra Tonnazzi, Director of the International Affairs Office and acting Director of the European Affairs Office, Italian Competition Authority, Italy; Ms. Helena Leurent, Director General, Consumers International; Mr. Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International; Moderator: Ms. Teresa Moreira, Head, Competition and Consumer Policies Branch, UNCTAD.
UNCTAD noted robust actions and positive outcomes in Nigeria. These include a warning letter by FCCPC to sellers engaged in price gouging and arbitrary increases in prices of hygiene products during COVID-19 outbreak. Also significant was Jumia’s decision to sweep its platform and delist 360 products belonging to 168 sellers of hand sanitizers and face masks from its platform for price gouging in response to regulatory action by FCCPC.
Speaking on Nigeria’s experience in enforcing fair competition and protecting consumers on busy online portals, Irukera stated that though challenging, progress has definitely been made.
Responding to a question about whether ongoing prosecutions were based on consumer protection or competitions theories of criminal liability, Irukera clarified that though consumer protection has been the primary focus, competition is very much on FCCPC’s radar and the agency recently opened an investigation into unilateral significant price increase by a dominant player in an industry.
The UNCTAD session also chronicled robust actions by other countries apart from Nigeria as consumer protection authorities monitor digital markets more closely to fight unfair, misleading and abusive practices. Some examples:
Italy suspended the marketing of an antiviral drug sold for more than 600 euros and ordered the shutdown of the relevant company’s website.
The country also initiated an investigation into misleading claims and excessive price increases of Amazon and eBay e-commerce platforms.
Colombia ordered digital platforms to withdraw miracle products in relation to COVID-19.
On 23 March 2020, the consumer protection authorities of all EU member States (Consumer Protection Cooperation network), issued a common position on the most reported scams and unfair practices in the COVID-19 context.