The Polish competition authority’s plans for 2024 | In Principle

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The Polish competition authority’s plans for 2024

The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) definitely stands out from other public administrative bodies in the number of interventions it carries out and the decisions it issues, as well as its impact on the behaviour of market participants. The regulator’s activity constantly attracts media and public interest. This makes it particularly worthwhile for businesses to be aware of the regulator’s agenda for this year.

The planned main initiatives of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) for 2024 are not surprising, as they fully coincide with the authority’s statutory powers. The agenda includes:

  • Protecting competition by combating anticompetitive practices, especially cartels, and improving the detection of banned arrangements in the public procurement market by building and developing effective IT tools
  • Improving agri-food market conditions by eliminating practices unfairly exploiting contractual advantage
  • State aid
  • Increasing the level of consumer protection
  • Improving the legal environment for commercial transactions by reducing payment gridlock, especially in the priority sectors of construction, retail, and services.

Of particular note are consumer protection activities, especially given UOKiK’s increased initiative in this area to date. The regulator will use the tools at its disposal to identify and eliminate from the market abusive clauses and practices violating the collective interests of consumers. In 2024, digital transformation, the financial market, and green transition are priority areas for consumer protection.

Notably, protecting consumers in the digital world and providing consumers with information on responsible consumption and sustainability are key activities not only in Poland, but also at the European level, and last year UOKiK identified the same areas as priorities.

In an effort to target “greenwashing,” in early 2023 the regulator announced that it is conducting explanatory proceedings against businesses in the apparel and cosmetics market and an online trading platform.

In the area of digital market transformation, in 2023 UOKiK carried out extensive monitoring of online platforms, verifying the correctness of practices involving the expanded information obligations imposed on businesses in connection with implementation of the EU’s Omnibus Directive (2019/2161). As a result, UOKiK has brought charges against several companies operating large e-commerce platforms accessible in Poland, but so far it has not announced any decisions in these matters.

Still looking at online consumer protection, in 2024 UOKiK intends to implement the project “Detecting and combating dark patterns with AI,” co-financed by the EU. Dark patterns are design solutions used, for example, in apps and on websites, exploiting the knowledge of users’ behaviour for the purpose of influencing their decisions. It is a form of manipulation by design applied to consumers online. The project’s objective is to explore the possibility of using artificial intelligence to identify and defeat these manipulative practices. Among other things, the project calls for initiation of at least six investigations into the use of dark patterns. Last year as well, UOKiK addressed dark patterns by conducting a number of investigations and imposing fines on, among others:

  • A business running an e-shop for automatically adding unsolicited products to the purchaser’s shopping cart (a fine of more than PLN 1.5 million)
  • A distributor of Norwegian dietary supplements for manipulating mail-order sales of dietary supplements (a fine of more than PLN 5 million).

With entry into force of new provisions governing pawnbroking activities, UOKiK is planning oversight activities with regards to companies’ compliance with their duties under the Consumer Pawn Loan Act.

Additionally, in 2024 UOKiK foresees implementation in Poland of the Representative Actions Directive (Directive (EU) 2020/1828 of 25 November 2020 on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers).

The Polish competition authority’s pursuit of all of these activities may pose challenges for UOKiK itself, due to the complexity of its investigations and the difficulty in attracting and retaining appropriately qualified staff.

Agnieszka Jelska, attorney-at-law, Competition & Consumer Protection practice, Wardyński & Partners