Message of Ms. Rahat Kaunain Hassan, Chairperson, CCP.

RahatKaunainHassanThere is considerable empirical evidence to show that competition in the marketplace is beneficial for consumers and good for business. Competition between different companies and individuals through free enterprise and open markets is the basis of a robust economy ? the US and European economies are prime examples of healthy economies where competition has been a key driver. When firms compete with each other, consumers get the best possible prices, quantity, and quality of goods and services. Competition laws encourage companies to compete so that both consumers and businesses benefit.

Actions against abuse by undertakings dominant in the market as well as action against instances of collusive behaviour or cartelization are undoubtedly beneficial for the consumer, and the benefits derived by them are both direct and indirect. However, equally beneficial and protective for the consumer are actions we take against deceptive marketing practices, the impact of which are usually seen more direct and obvious to consumers.

The Commission has taken a number of actions against cartels, abusive dominant players, deceptive marketing, and has granted clearance to more than 300 merger applications and exemption applications. It has completed more than 30 enquiries and issued more than 50 quasi-judicial orders. It has also conducted 14 inspections that have been successful in uncovering evidence of anti-competitive behaviour. The Commission has placed penalties of approximately PKR 8.5 billion on undertakings that have been found violating the Act.

Addressing deceptive marketing practices is a recent addition to the responsibilities being shouldered by competition agencies, including the CCP, across the globe. Increasingly, competition agencies are being called upon to act against deceptive marketing practices. The logic behind this is simple - while competition law addresses distortions on the supply side, consumer protection helps remove distortions on the demand side.

The Consumer to whom misleading or false information is disseminated has to be the 'ordinary consumer' who is the usual, common or foreseeable user or buyer of the product. Such a consumer need not necessarily be restricted to the end user.

The scope of the term 'consumer' must be construed most liberally and in its widest amplitude. Restricting its interpretation with the use of the words 'average', 'reasonable' or 'prudent' will not only narrow down and put constraints in the effective implementation of the provision it would, rather be contrary to the intent of law.
The CCP has done much work in the area in a relatively short span of time but rather than talk about particular cases that the Commission has worked on, I would like to share some of the principles resulting from these cases that guide our consumer protection activities:

First, in deceptive advertisements, we have kept the onus squarely on the undertakings that publish them and not in any way on the consumer. If we qualify the term "consumer" with words like "average" "reasonable" or "prudent" or other similar expressions, this could provide an escape route for undertakings and bog us down in minutiae to prove culpability. We are clear that under the Competition Act, 2012, the duty of any undertaking not to deceive the consumer is absolute and prime, regardless of the type of consumer - an individual or another undertaking.

Second, we hold that in any deceptive advertisement, actual deception does not need to be established or proved. If it can be shown that the advertisement simply has the tendency or potential to deceive and the capacity to mislead that is sufficient for us to take action.

Third, incomplete or half-truth statement in advertisement is tantamount to being misleading or false and disclaimer in fine print is also insufficient to rectify or correct initial deceptive impressions that could compel a transaction by any consumer.

Fourth, we hold that advertisements pertaining to financial products must, as far as it is practicable and applicable, use the US Truth in Savings Act as a benchmark. There must be no lack of clarity regarding the rate of return being offered.
I congratulate Helpline Trust on organizing its 7th National Awards on "Putting the Consumer First". I am sure, like the earlier Six Awards, this will also serve to highlight critical issues related to consumer protection and elicit the opinion of the experts on the topic.