The COMESA Competition Commission (the “Commission”) is a regional body corporate established pursuant to Article 6 of the COMESA Competition Regulations (‘the Regulations’). The Commission’s mandate is to promote and encourage competition by preventing restrictive business practices and other restrictions that deter the efficient operation of markets, thereby enhancing the welfare of the consumers in the Common Market, and protecting consumers against offensive conduct by market actors.
The 15th of March every year is World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), an annual event for raising awareness about consumer rights and needs by the consumer protection authorities. This year the day will be celebrated under the theme: “Empowering Consumers Through Clean Energy Transitions”. Commemorating the day allows the consumer protection authorities to speak out on the most pressing issues affecting consumers and engaging different stakeholders on those issues.
In addition, the WCRD commemoration provides a platform for countries, organization, consumers and other stakeholders to focus discussions on topical consumer protection issues. In this regard, the Commission joins the rest of the World to commemorate the World Consumer Rights Day under the theme: “Empowering Consumers Through Clean Energy Transitions and accurate green claims”. The Commission is cognizant of the need for consumers to transition from traditional energy sources to cleaner energy sources and the increasing trend of green claims with misleading information and the challenge it brings to consumers.
Transition to clean energy
Clean energy refers to the energy that is generated through a process that does not directly emit greenhouse gases (emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere and radiate it back on earth such as carbon dioxide,, methane, nitrous oxide). The drive to clean energy transition is to reduce greenhouse emissions while meeting growing energy demand and support economic growth. Much of the existing energy produces about three-quarters of Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. On the other hand, about 760 million people in the poorest countries live without electricity, an estimated 1 billion more suffer from unreliable supply, and 2.6 billion people still lack access to clean cookstoves, with women being the most affected.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that demand-side changes could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 70% by 2050. Clean energy goes hand in hand with renewable energy though they are not, exactly, the same. While cleaner energy relates to generation of energy with zero greenhouse emissions, renewable energy is concerned with sources that can be replenished sustainably while limiting carbon emissions. Both are aimed at reducing greenhouses gases, combating climate change and providing sustainable sources of energy.
Clean energy presents a wide range of benefits which include: enhanced consumer choices as there will be increased energy options; limited greenhouse emissions and thereby contributing to combating climate change; improved environment thereby enhancing the consumer right to leave in a clean, safe and secure environment; reduced costs due to low maintenance and continuous production costs; increased energy supply to stimulate production, job creation and enhance standard of living especially developing countries.
While clean energy transition presents immense benefits to consumers, there are several concerns that need to be addressed during and after the transition. Such consumer concerns include cost effectiveness and freedom of choice, quality and reliability; safety; fair and dignified treatment of consumers; fair contracts, effective regulatory regimes as well as data privacy.
All stakeholders have a core role to play in delivering a just transition for consumers. This presents a window of opportunity, to hold producers, policymakers to their commitments and ensure effective consumer protection during the transition and thereafter. Consumers are core marketplace actors and not passive bystanders in the energy transition so their interest need to be addressed.
Green claims are assertions made by firms about the environmentally beneficial qualities or characteristics of their goods and services. For instance, producers may claim: (i) biodegradability, meaning that the product or package should be able to break down or decompose and return to nature in a safe and timely manner, (ii) recyclability the product or package can be collected, separated or recovered from the solid waste for reuse or manufacture/assembly of another product, (iii) Compostability meaning that the product or package should be able to break down into usable compost or manure in a safe and timely manner or (iii) Ozone friendly claims –should not contain substances/ingredients which harm or deplete the ozone layer.
The consumer protection concerns with green claims arise from the fact that the green claims may be misleading if they are simply used by companies as a marketing tool to increase sells of their products or even hike prices even where the claim is not true. It becomes misleading and a violation of a consumer right if the claim cannot be scientifically justified; or it takes a very long time to realize the claim or there are necessary processes, procedures or facilities required for the claim to be realized and these are not in place. Such misleading green claims are also known as green washing and are considered a violation of consumer rights and a breach of the Regulations.
Joint Commemoration of the WCRD
The Commission is happy to announce that this year, it has partnered with five (5) Member States of COMESA in commemorating the 2023 World Consumer Rights Day. Specifically, the Commission has partnered with the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) of Zimbabwe, Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) of Zambia, Competition and Fair Trading Commission of Malawi (CFTC) and the Rwanda Inspectorate, Competition and Consumer Protection Authority (RICA) and the Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Protection of Mauritius. In this regard, the Commission is taking part in several activities to raise awareness on the transitioning to cleaner energy sources and the possible effects of green claims.
The Commission`s Commemoration activities will include: a virtual workshop for the COMESA Consumer Protection Committee Members on 9 March 2023, live TV talk shows in the two Member States on 15 March 2023, Press Briefings as well as other commemoration activities lined up by the Member States on 17 March 2023.
The Commission remains committed to partnering with different Member States in the commemoration of such events. While it has partnered with Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda Zambia and Zimbabwe this year, it will continue providing support and engaging with different Member States on such events.
For more information on this statement, you may contact Mr. Steven Kamukama, Manager, Consumer Welfare and Advocacy Division on email: email@example.com.
Dr. Willard Mwemba
Director & Chief Executive