Watchdog warns schools directing parents to particular uniform shops

A parent shops for school uniforms at an outlet in Nairobi. PHOTO | PAUL WAWERU
A parent shops for school uniforms at an outlet in Nairobi. PHOTO | PAUL WAWERU 

The competition watchdog has launched a crackdown on school administrators suspected to be colluding with traders to drive up sales of uniforms.

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) on Wednesday asked any parents, guardians and students who had been directed to buy school uniforms from specific outlets to lodge evidence-based complaint with it for legal action.

“It has come to the notice of the CAK that some schools, both public and private, are recommending outlets from which their school uniforms can be purchased in the admission letters and school joining instructions, without any explicit benefits to parents or consumers” CAK director-general Kariuki Wang’ombe said.

“The CAK here notifies the affected school administrators, school uniform shops and outlets, parents and the general public that this practice contravenes section 21(3)(b) of the (Competition) Act and further undermines the spirit and benefits of competition,” he said.

Article 21(3)(b) of the Competition Act prohibits parties against actions that divide markets by allocating customers, suppliers, areas or specific types of goods or services.

The warning by CAK came as hundreds of thousands of pupils who sat the 2015 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination prepared to join Form 1 starting next week.

Most school administrators currently demand that school uniforms be bought at specific outlets, limiting choices for buyers — an action CAK said contravenes the law.

A spot check in several uniform outlets in Nairobi on Wednesday confirmed that most schools had issued admission letters with instructions on where to buy them. Some of the admission letters even had maps of the physical locations of the uniform outlets.

A sample of letters shown to the Business Daily were specific on which shops to get the uniforms and other requirements from. Some of the known uniform shops in Nairobi are Animet Limited, School Outfitters and Uniform Distributors Limited.

Inquiries further revealed that even parents of kindergarten-going children in Nairobi are instructed on where to buy the uniforms.

“My son’s school admission letter directed that I buy the uniform from here and I have no choice but to do so. I can’t risk buying uniform elsewhere and later have it rejected at school because of the shade does not match what is required,” Japheth Ngugi, told the Business Daily outside the School Outfitters shop on Mundi Mbigu Street, Nairobi.

The regulator urged parents to purchase uniforms from outlets of their choice.

“School principals and administrators are hereby cautioned from engaging in this conduct as parents should be free to buy uniform from their preferred shops or outlets as long as school uniform bought meets the colour, shade, thread count and design as prescribed by the respective schools. Any parent or member of the public who is aggrieved by this conduct henceforth should contact CAK,” said Mr Wang’ombe.

Besides helping to drive sales volumes, insiders said, this strategy has been abused by some traders to charge exorbitant prices amid concern that some school administrators may be benefiting from the proceeds of the exaggerated prices.