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Consumer protection in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic: Focus on digitalization

Virtual meeting

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) and The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) are collaborating to organize a joint Webinar on “Consumer protection law and policy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, focus on digitalization”.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has deteriorated the health and economic welfare of consumers as markets have been disrupted. Consumers were deprived access to essential goods and services, and vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers were severely affected. Furthermore, a large percentage of consumers have been the victim of unfair business practices. However, the mandatory quarantine enforced in so many countries as a result of the pandemic led to a surge in digital economy.  
Digital economy has offered great 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. However, the digital economy is also a 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 and 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.
Therefore, Consumer protection agencies must continue to play a central role in ensuring the welfare of consumers in times of the pandemic and in its aftermath. 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.
Accordingly, this webinar 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. In addition, it will discuss the experiences of the national consumer protection authorities from the Arab region, specifically concerning the main challenges faced since the start of the pandemic and the remedial measures taken in response to these challenges. The webinar will offer an opportunity for national consumer protection authorities to exchange information and best practices and to identify possibilities for regional collaboration. Additionally, experts from ESCWA, UNCTAD and experts from international organizations will provide authorities with recommendations from both a regional and international perspective.
The first session of the webinar will present the performance of the Arab region in business with a particular focus on digital economy trends, products, and challenges in the region. Also, it will present the impact of the COVD-19 crisis on consumers and the most common unfair business practices and challenges that emerged as a result of the pandemic. During the second session, speakers will share their experiences regarding the main challenges consumers have faced, and the measures taken by consumer protection authorities to protect consumers and moderate the impact of the pandemic. During the third and last session, speakers will answer a couple of questions such as:
  • “Is there a potential to shift to digitization with more reliance on online activities in response to and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?”
  • “What are possible post-COVID-19 digital economy solutions needed to facilitate this shift?”
  • “What are the main recommendations and priorities for the region?”