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ISLAMABAD: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP)’s inquiry report against a leading consumer goods company concluded that Safeguard soap offers superior protection against germs as compared to ordinary (non-antimicrobial) soap.

The CCP has dismissed the complaint filed against Protector & Gamble (P&G) Pakistan Limited in accordance with the law.

The inquiry report of CCP revealed that the complaint was filed by Colgate Palmolive (CP) Pakistan against P&G for the alleged violation of Section 10 of the Competition Act 2010.

P&G stated that it has been promoting the habit of washing hands and healthy hygiene habits by developing, inter alia, exclusive animated content featuring a superhero, Commander Safeguard, which is an initiative that promotes hand washing habits in public, particularly among children, by providing educational material on health and hygiene and recognizing hand washing as the first line of defence against infections. This initiative has been appreciated and recognised all around Pakistan as well as globally, to the extent that the Commander Safeguard initiative was adopted by P&G Philippines.

It is submitted that P&G has actively been involved in raising public awareness and has launched multiple campaigns not only to improve general hygiene but also launched the campaign, “Help stop the spread of coronavirus wash hands and #staysafe.”

In this regard, CCP initiated an inquiry in accordance with sub-section (2) of Section 37 of the Act by appointing two inquiry officers who were part of the inquiry committee.

In the TV Commercial (TVC) in question, a man, having just washed his hands, hears a child say, “Germs!” The man responds with “Abhi to haath dhoye hain (I’ve just washed my hands),” and the child says that he hasn’t washed with “double dum power of Safeguard.”

CP alleges that this advertisement misleads consumers into believing that the act of hand washing with ordinary soap is inadequate for germ protection. This, it is alleged, is false and misleading, as scientific literature, including publications by the World Health Organization (WHO), has proven decisively that the mechanical act of hand washing with any soap, or sanitizer with 70 percent alcohol content, is the most potent defence against germs and viruses, and to imply that Safeguard LHS offers superior protection as compared to ordinary soap is false and misleading, and is capable of harming the business interests of the complainant.

CP submits that the timing of the TVC by P&G amplifies the risk to consumers as the nation is in the midst of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and implies that their products offer superior protection as compared to ordinary hand wash soaps and sanitizers a gross exaggeration that is not only harmful to consumers as misleading information but also capable of harming CP’s interests.

CP has respectfully requested that the Commission may declare the impugned TVC as deceptive and declare that the advertisements of the respondent are capable of harming the business interests of other undertakings, including those of the CP.

P&G further submits that the advertisement does not distribute false or misleading information that is capable of harming the business interests of another undertaking, including the distribution of information lacking a reasonable basis.

The complainant has failed to mention the potential or actual harm that the advertisement may have caused to the business interests of the competitors.

P&G submits that the TVC does not reduce competition by advertising the germ-inhibiting properties of Safeguard LHS.

It would be detrimental to the competition if P&G were directed or ordered not to advertise the unique features that distinguish it from others. It is submitted that Section 37(2) of the Act, Regulation 17(2), and Regulation 20(1) of the Competition (General Enforcement) Regulations, 2007, clearly state that the complaint shall be based on facts and each fact shall be substantiated by prima facie evidence. The complainant has neither based the complaint on sufficient facts nor substantiated it by prima facie evidence, states P&G.

It is further submitted that Commander Safeguard is an initiative that promotes hand washing habits in public, particularly amongst children, and teaches the children to educate their parents about the importance of hand washing and hygiene, as well as hand washing as the first line of defence in accordance with the WHO and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

The concept of “double dum power” is based on double protection or two types of protection. Double protection means that Safeguard LHS is capable of germ removal and germ inhibition. The two types of protections are separately explained within the advertisement.

P&G reiterates that Safeguard LHS contains an antibacterial ingredient, piroctone olamine that provides long-lasting protection by inhibiting germ regrowth after washing for up to four hours, as tested on representative micro-organisms.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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