Business

Kijiji bans listings for toilet paper, surgical masks amid COVID-19 price-gouging

Kijiji is banning listings for health-care masks, hand sanitizer and other items in high demand amid the COVID-19 outbreak in an effort to stop price-gouging.

Listings for such items had popped up on the site well above market value

Unfounded fears of shortages amid an outbreak of COVID-19 have Canadians buying up supplies. 2:06

Kijiji is banning listings for health-care masks, hand sanitizer and other items in high demand amid the COVID-19 outbreak in an effort to stop price-gouging.

The classifieds website made the announcement as it outlined best practices for buying and selling through the site during the pandemic.

It says it's also temporarily removing listings for "disinfecting wipes and toilet paper" based on user feedback.

The website says it's trying to "curb pricing practices that run counter to the community-minded spirit of Kijiji."

In recent days, listings for such items had popped up on the site well above market value.

The website is also recommending that people follow health officials' advice when meeting up to make purchases, including cleaning items with regular household cleaners or diluted bleach.

A notice limiting only three packages of toilet paper per customer is displayed on bare shelves after shoppers cleaned out the stock of paper and cleaning products at a local grocery store in Burbank, Calif., on Saturday. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)

Ken Whitehurst, executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada, told CBC Vancouver that disaster profiteering is nothing new. Neither, for that matter, is reselling products online for a profit.

"There's a whole industry built around it," he said. 

"But it's often difficult for everyone to recognize when they're in a moment where the integrity of the marketplace, the confidence we have in our institutions, our confidence we have in each other, depends on what we give to each other, not what we take from each other."

This type of activity is not illegal in Canada, but Whitehurst says companies and governments have the power to crack down on it. 

"There's a lot that a major retailer can do just because they're good corporate citizens," Whitehurst said.

"The other thing is we can look to is jurisdictions that have more experience with natural emergency, maybe, than we do. You know, there are certainly states in the U.S. where if a state of emergency is declared, then automatically legal controls come in around inventory management and pricing."

With files from CBC News

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