This webinar is jointly organized by the UN-ESCWA and UNCTAD and available in UN-ESCWA YouTube channel. Please register here https://forms.gle/1tB4sD9vHPmNUhtV6 and submit your questions to the experts prior to the event.
Time of the event: 11:00 – 13:00 Beirut time (UTC+3)
The COVID-19 pandemic caused havoc in the health and economic welfare of consumers as markets were disrupted. Consumers did not always have access to essential goods and services and the vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers were affected even harder. Several consumers have been the prey of unfair business practices. At the same time the pandemic has fueled a digital surge.
The digital economy has brought the largest opportunities to consumers amid the COVID-19 crisis. Electronic commerce of goods and services is booming as consumers increasingly rely on digital platforms for online shopping, virtual meetings, and educational purposes. Online information campaigns are the fastest and most efficient means to reaching out to millions of consumers. Dispute resolution for consumers is swiftly transiting towards digital means.
However, the digital economy is also source of some of the greatest challenges to consumers in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Challenges include the proliferation of price gouging for medical equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizers, but also for basic consumer goods; the rise of misleading and deceptive online marketing techniques exploiting consumers by falsely claiming that a product can prevent or cure an infection of the virus; and other scams such as financial fraud and fishing schemes. Moreover, the digital divide increased the gap for vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers.
Consumer protection agencies play a central role in ensuring the welfare of consumers in times of the pandemic and in its aftermath. They are harnessing digital means to multiply their reach. Many Consumer protection agencies have increased information and awareness-raising campaigns regarding health and safety, unfair commercial practices, and consumers’ right to refunds, and set up or updated online portals and other digital tools to support consumers to facilitate the filing of online complaints during this period. Some are engaging with online businesses to ensure that consumer rights are respected and that products are safe. Consumer protection agencies have also advocated for better online consumer protection before other relevant government institutions.
The cross-border nature of both the pandemic and the expansion of the digital economy calls for cooperation among national consumer protection agencies. This includes the exchange of information and experiences on enforcement and policy issues such as best practices for consumer education, enforcement, dispute resolution and redress.
In this webinar we will discuss consumers’ increasing reliance on online mechanisms and the challenges faced by consumers and consumer protection agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. We will hear from national consumer protection agencies from Arab sub-regions (Mashreq, Maghreb, GCC and LDC) what have been their main challenges since the start of the pandemic and what remedial measures they have taken in response. The webinar will allow national consumer protection agencies to exchange information and best practices and identify possibilities for regional collaboration. Additionally, experts from regional and international organizations, including UNESCWA and UNCTAD, will provide Arab consumer protection agencies with recommendations from both a regional and international perspective.