After discovering discrepancies with expiry dates and labelling of Conad products, one Albanian man is being taken to court for defamation by the supermarket chain.
On 2 February, Ilir Ciko purchased a packet of mushrooms from the Conad store on Rruga Kavajes. The product had an Albanian label attached to it which appeared to be stuck over the original Italian label. He peeled it back and discovered that the expiry date on the original label had been scratched out.
He returned to the store and purchased other samples of the same product, only to discover the same thing on each of them.
He took to Facebook to write a short post about the issue and asked the question of what legislation is there in place to protect Albanian consumers against large companies that sell food in Albania. He made reference to the fact that other businesses have been found to import expired food, or food that is close to expiring, then selling it locally with removed or amended expiry dates.
The post quickly went viral and he received a large number of comments in support of him, including similar stories from others who had purchased products at a premium price, only to receive a low quality item.
Conad’s response to the post was aggressive and, according to Ciko, “refused to acknowledge the problem, offered un-supported and contradicting justifications, and unfairly questioned the reasons behind the accusations”.
The public reaction was swift and the company’s Facebook page was inundated with negative comments, whilst Ciko received “hundreds of messages” of support. According to his recent post on Facebook, he also received a considerable amount of evidence that could point to a “structured practice of importing some food products near of beyond their expiry date, from Italy, for sale in Albania.”
The company then changed the way they labelled the product, removing the Albanian label and leaving the original Italian one underneath. In a subsequent post, Ciko acknowledged this action positively and called on government inspection agencies to ensure that repeats of the incident, with other suppliers, not just Conad, do not happen again.
Conad responded by filing a penal case for defamation against Ciko. This is a highly unusual step as no defamatory comments or statements had been made in either of the Facebook posts. Ciko claims that the move was taken in an attempt to intimidate and deter consumers from taking steps to defend their rights or to publicly name and shame offenders.
In a Facebook statement, Ciko writes:
“Apart from the individual impact on me, this case raises important issues for the public- food safety, which coupled with rampant corruption and lack of capacities on the part of food safety authorities, remains threatened by dangerous commercial practices that must come to an end.”
He added that “[…] consumer rights, food safety, consumer protection, and more importantly freedom of speech in Albania are at stake in this case of a corporation against an individual customer”.
In October 2018, the Albanian parliament adopted an amendment to Law no.9902 on consumer protection. This did not make the news, nor did it get the attention of any local NGOs or the public despite the dire implications. The amendments substantially reduced the penalties and fines applicable to those found to be in breach of consumer protection laws. The previous penalty had been 2% of the previous year’s total revenue, yet the new law changes it to a fine of just EUR 2,400. Not only is this a significant departure from EU practices (most EU countries apply a fine of 4%), it also does not stand as a deterrent against instances of malpractice and violations of customer rights.
It also gives a big advantage to large foreign businesses operating in Albania where they can offload almost expired goods at a premium price, with little to no consequence.
— Alice Elizabeth Taylor