Although there has been progressing in addressing gender inequality in the workplace, there are still significant barriers in levelling out the playing field, including in new sectors, according to Competition Tribunal Chairperson Mondo Mazwai. She said ensuring a sustainable and inclusive economy was not only about ownership and participation but also included advancing diversity through what women could contribute.
“We cannot hope to advance women’s economic empowerment using the same approaches that created the gender disparity in the first place,” she said. Mazwai was speaking at a webinar on removing barriers to women’s economic empowerment hosted by the Commission for Gender Equality this week. It included Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Nomalungelo Gina and National Youth Development Agency CEO Waseem Carrim.
Mazawi, who is the first women chairperson of the tribunal, told the meeting that the most relevant public interest considerations under the Competition Act were twofold.
“One is to ensure that SMMEs have equitable opportunity to participate in the economy and the second is to promote the greater spread of ownership in the economy in particular by historically-disadvantaged individuals,” she said.
“Note specifically that no provision in the Act specifies women empowerment. We look at them (women-owned enterprises) under the broad rubric of small businesses because women-owned businesses tend to be in these categories.”
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there were no mergers where women were the primary parties either acquiring or selling a business, the chairperson said. Also, many SMMEs and women-owned businesses were often at the receiving end of anti-competitive conduct.
“In 2019, there were 89 mergers valued at R1.8 trillion. The biggest transaction in value was the PepsiCo-Simba acquisition of Pioneer Foods. The conditions of that merger that were imposed included establishing a BBBEE workers’ trust with equity of R1.6 billion,” she said.
“The criteria included historically-disadvantaged individuals and women; existing sale and distribution agreement with SMMEs and historically-disadvantaged individuals will be maintained for two years, and further, PepsiCo will establish a development fund of R600-million for investment in SMME programmes.”
But while some of these outcomes have been achieved, it was critical that competition policy had to work industrial policy to achieve inclusive growth, particularly for women, Mazawi said. “As brick-and-mortar businesses have closed and commercial activity businesses move online, the gender gap is likely to be exacerbated,” she warned.
“The migration to the digital economy likely brings with it first-mover advantages that potentially entrench the dominance of the incumbents,” Mazawi said this made it more difficult for SMMEs, historically disadvantaged individuals and women-owned businesses, which did have access to online platforms, to successfully compete in the digital space.
“Competition authorities around the world are grappling with this and here at home the Market Inquiry … into Online Intermediation Platforms (by the commission) is currently underway,” she said. “It is intended to assess the levels of concentrations in digital platforms and the importance of these platforms for businesses seeking access to markets or to consumers through trading and advertising.”