Navigating the ACCC’s 2023-24 Priorities: A Guide for Businesses in the Evolving Regulatory Landscape

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released its compliance and enforcement policy and priorities for 2023-24, focusing on areas such as environmental claims, digital economy, essential services, and consumer product safety.

In his address at the annual Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA), ACCC Chair Rod Sims said: ““Consumers are facing a growing number of manipulative techniques to exploit or pressure them, and other practices that seek to distort or disregard their consumer choice in the digital economy.”

Key take always and areas of focus for the ACCC over 2023-2024 include:

  1. Increased scrutiny on environmental claims and sustainability, affecting businesses making such claims in their marketing and advertising.
  2. Support for the implementation of the National Anti-Scam Centre, impacting businesses involved in scam detection and disruption.
  3. Focus on manipulative or deceptive advertising and marketing practices in the digital economy, affecting businesses operating in this sector.
  4. Addressing unfair contract terms in consumer and small business contracts.
  5. Investigating competition and consumer issues in essential services pricing and selling, particularly in energy and telecommunications sectors.
  6. Monitoring competition and pricing issues in wholesale gas markets.
  7. Empowering consumers and improving industry compliance with consumer guarantees, focusing on high-value goods like motor vehicles and caravans.
  8. Investigating competition and consumer issues in global and domestic supply chains, with a focus on transport and logistics.
  9. Addressing competition and consumer issues related to digital platforms.
  10. Promoting competition and investigating anti-competitive conduct in the financial services sector, focusing on payment services.
  11. Examining exclusive arrangements by firms with market power that impact competition.
  12. Ensuring small businesses receive protections under competition and consumer laws and industry codes of conduct, including in agriculture and franchising.
  13. Focusing on consumer product safety issues for young children, including compliance, enforcement, and education initiatives.

Approach taken by the ACCC

The following principles govern the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement work:

Accountability – the ACCC’s decision-making takes place within rigorous corporate governance processes, and its actions can be reviewed by a range of agencies including the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Parliamentary Committees and the courts.

Transparency – the ACCC does not do private deals – enforcement matters that are finalised by litigation or other formal resolution are made public because it is transparent about what action it takes and why.

Confidentiality – the ACCC seeks to conduct investigations in confidence and it does not comment on matters that it may or may not be investigating; however, where a matter is already in the public domain the ACCC may make a public statement about it if it is in the public interest to do so.

Timeliness – the ACCC’s investigations and the resolution of enforcement matters are done as efficiently as possible to avoid costly delays and uncertainty for business.

Proportionality – the ACCC’s enforcement responses are proportionate to the conduct and the resulting or potential harm.

Fairness – in conducting our investigations and other activities, the ACCC seeks to:

– balance voluntary compliance with enforcement activity, while responding to many competing interests

– take into account its approach in one matter when deciding how to pursue another, and

– balance fairness to individuals and traders subject to ACCC enforcement action, with informing the public about the ACCC’s work and being transparent about what action the ACCC is taking and why.

Lessons for businesses

Here are some key lessons for businesses based on the ACCC’s policy and priorities:

Be transparent and accurate with environmental claims:
Given the increased scrutiny on environmental claims and sustainability, businesses should ensure that their marketing and advertising materials are transparent, accurate, and supported by verifiable evidence. Misleading green claims can result in enforcement actions and damage to brand reputation.

Review and update digital advertising and marketing practices:
The ACCC’s focus on manipulative or deceptive advertising and marketing practices in the digital economy highlights the importance of maintaining ethical online practices. Regularly review and update your digital marketing strategies to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws and avoid any potentially deceptive practices.

Implement fair contract terms:
Businesses should review and update their consumer and small business contracts to ensure they are fair and compliant with consumer protection laws. Unfair contract terms may attract regulatory attention and result in enforcement actions.

Stay updated on essential services pricing and selling practices:
If your business operates in the energy or telecommunications sectors, it is crucial to stay updated on ACCC actions and guidelines related to pricing and selling practices. Monitor industry trends and ensure that your business complies with all relevant consumer protection and competition laws.

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