The Gujarat High Court on July 7 issued notice to the central government on a petition demanding that all products sold via e-commerce platforms disclose the country where the product is manufactured. The court issued notice to the Union of India, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, and Ministry of Consumer Affairs, among others. LiveLaw reported this, and made the petition public.
The petition comes amidst increased rhetoric against Chinese products and amidst calls for self-reliance, in light of the border tensions with China at Ladakh, wherein 20 Indian soldiers were killed as troops from the two sides violently clashed. Demands for country of origin disclosures on e-commerce platforms have similarly already taken flight. By the time this petition was registered, the Department of Industrial Promotion & Policy (DPIIT) had already asked e-commerce companies to figure out a way to disclose country of origin on products being sold on their platforms. The government’s new e-commerce policy, which we reported on last week, also requires e-commerce platforms to specify the country of origin and value addition done in India for imported goods and good exported from India via e-commerce entities.
The petition was heard by a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J.B. Pardiwala. It enlists the Union of India, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, the Ministry of Consume Affairs, PMO Office, the State of Gujarat, and the state Consumer Affairs department. Even though e-commerce is regulated by DPIIT under the Commerce Ministry, and the e-commerce policy is was drafted by them, the petition does not enlist neither the department nor the ministry as a respondent.
Disclose country of manufacture, whether manufacturing company is India, disclose stakeholding of Indian company in case of MNC
This petition, filed advocate Yatin Sureshbhai Soni, seeks direction making it mandatory to disclose country of origin on products being sold on e-commerce platforms, and to place restrictions on those which fail to do so. The petition argues that it is difficult currently for consumers to know if the company manufacturing the product “is based in India or in a foreign country or if the majority shareholding of the company selling the product on the E-Commerce platform is of a parent company outside India”. Making a consumer rights argument, it states that it is the fundamental right of every citizen to have this information.
It seeks that the regulations be issued by the government making it mandatory for e-commerce companies to mention:
- Whether the product is manufactured by Indian company but manufactured in India or in a foreign land, or
- Whether it is manufactured by foreign company, but manufactured in India or in a foreign land.
- In case the product is manufactured by an MNC, “the percentage of Indian stake holder must be stated at a conspicuous place” so the the buyer gets the information while purchasing the product. “Without which such advertiser and the E-Commerce platforms must be made liable for penal actions,” the petition said.
For illiterate and semi-literate persons to get this information, the government should assign particular symbols or colours to such products, such as orange colour or any symbol of orange colour for a product manufactured by an Indian company and manufactured in India. The petition suggests different colours for other categories it states by itself. In case of products developed by a MNC, the e-commerce company may also disclose the percentage of stakes held by an Indian or foreign company.