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Columnists

Consumer welfare, protection in digital and connected world

 supermarket
A shopper at a supermarket in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The effective application of competition laws and policies in any jurisdiction ultimately benefits consumers through competitive pricing and a wider choice of goods and services that are of better quality and standards.

Protection of consumers’ rights still remains an uphill task globally, mainly because consumers are ill-informed about their rights or avenues through which they can enforce them.

Article 46 of the Constitution of Kenya provides that consumers have a right to goods and services of reasonable quality; right to information necessary for them to gain full benefit from goods and services; right to the protection of their health, safety, and economic interests.

Consumers also have the right to compensation for loss or injury arising from defective goods or services.

The Competition Act No. 12 of 2010 augments the Constitution by giving the Competition Authority of Kenya the mandate of investigating and remedying consumer welfare violations arising from, among others, false or misleading representations, undue influence/pressure, or sale of defective or unsafe goods.

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While enforcement of consumer rights remains challenging, Kenya has recorded tremendous progress. One major achievement by the Authority is the increased sensitization of consumers about their rights and channels of recourse when they are wronged.

As a result, the number of consumer complaints registered during the year to June 2018 increased by 66 per cent compared to the previous year. Majority of these cases were from the retail, telecommunication and banking sectors.

Five years ago, the Authority, which was still in its formative years, used to process less than 20 complaints annually. This Financial Year, the Authority has handled over 150 cases, the highest number since its formation.

Investigations into business conduct that violates consumers’ rights have also increased. The Authority’s medium-term focus is prioritising inquiries into key sectors of the economy that have been earmarked as key achieving the Government’s Big 4 Economic Transformation Agenda.

The Authority has also increased its efforts to empower Consumer Bodies. While these organizations cannot investigate complaints, they are a good avenue through which consumers can submit their grievances to the Authority. Empowering Consumer Bodies to empower consumers is therefore a priority.

One of the ways through which the Authority has been able to increase awareness about its consumer protection mandate is through sensitization forums across the country targeting various stakeholders.

The World Consumer Rights Day, which is marked globally and annually on March 15, is one of the avenues through which the Authority has managed to raise awareness levels about consumer rights and protection.

The theme for this year’s event is “Better and Secure Digital Products.”

In our increasingly connected World, consumers purchase and use smart products such as smartphones, smart televisions, and wearable fitness trackers, among others.

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