Retailers to face big fines for price gouging

Effective March 31, retailers found to be charging customers exorbitant prices for goods during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be fined up to $2 million for this breach.

This is stipulated in the Trade (Sale of Goods During Period of Declaration of Disaster Area) Order 2020, which was approved in the House of Representatives on Wednesday (March 25).

State Minister for Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Floyd Green, who introduced the Order in the House, said this measure is being undertaken to stamp out recent cases of price gouging stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.

State Minister for Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Floyd Green

He said the Government has moved to decisively deal with the matter, following investigations conducted by the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC), after receiving a number of complaints from consumers that they were “seeing unexplained and unconscionable rises in prices” across Jamaica.

“Between the 9th and 13th day of March, the CAC visited 43 outlets, looking especially at sanitisation products, for which we were getting a myriad of complaints. The CAC visited outlets in Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Elizabeth, St. Ann, Manchester and St. Mary. What we found is that there was, in fact, unexplained rises in prices across a number of these items,” Mr Green informed.

He noted that on average, it was found that there was a 14 per cent rise in prices for hand sanitisers and as much as an 85 per cent increase in aerosol disinfectant sprays.

“In one case, we got a report out of St. Ann where the aerosol spray that was normally sold for $850 in retail was being sold for $1,641,” he said.

“It was found that there was a 14 per cent rise in prices for hand sanitisers and… 85 per cent increase in aerosol disinfectant sprays”

Under the Order, no person whose business includes the retail sale of goods shall sell any necessary goods to another person at a price higher than the price charged immediately before the coming into force of the Disaster Risk Management (Declaration of Disaster Area) Order, 2020, on March 18.

This refers to any item used or intended for use as food or drink; personal care items such as soap, cleaning products, antibacterial products, toiletries, alcohol, hand sanitisers, bleach, gloves; and medical supplies, including surgical masks and prescription and non-prescription medication.

“These [goods] would have already been priced with profit margins in those prices and, as such, for the Disaster Area Order time period, we are saying the retailer will have to maintain those prices,” the State Minister said.

Minister Floyd Green at the launch of the Consumer Affairs Commission app.

Mr. Green informed that under the Order, the CAC has been authorised, on behalf of the Industry Minister, to demand that books, accounts and other documents relating to the business be provided so that claims of price gouging can be investigated.

The State Minister encouraged citizens to report cases of price gouging to the CAC, noting that if they have made a purchase to also send in the receipt so that the investigation process can be activated.

“I am appealing to the retailers…to use their good conscience and to maintain the prices that they had.”

— Green

“The CAC already has a robust investigation process and they are ready to act… but we will need the cooperation of citizens to make those reports,” he added.

Mr. Green also urged retailers to desist from hiking prices, appealing to them to help to protect consumers, especially the most vulnerable, “who suffer most when these prices are raised to unconscionable levels”.

 “Charging exorbitant prices because of fear is not the right thing to do, and as such, I am appealing to the retailers, even before the CAC acts, to use their good conscience and to maintain the prices that they had,” he said.