Saturday, 16 March 2013

Consumer rights and protection: government inattention; ineffective legislation; inadequate enforcement

Consumers InternationaI Director General Helen McCallum on CI’s unique global survey of consumer protection writes as follows:

Friday, 15 March, was World Consumer Rights Day. To mark it, we are releasing the findings of a remarkable survey, arguably one of a kind.

We asked 70 consumer groups in 58 nations to tell us about the state of consumer protection in their country.

The results, highlighted in the infographic attached, have been fascinating.

While the findings reveal a concerning lack of government attention around some of today’s most pressing consumer rights issues; in many countries we also found existing legislation to be ineffective and under-enforced.

Barely half (52%) of the countries surveyed have a national policy to protect consumers. Even where specific legislation does exist, it by no means guarantees consumer justice. For instance, while 91% of governments fine companies that violate consumer laws, only 55% order financial compensation to consumers.

The survey also indicates a lack of government action on contemporary consumer concerns, such as e-commerce, environmental impact and corporate behaviour.

For instance, less than a third of governments (29%) have mechanisms in place to resolve e-commerce disputes out of court; meaning victims of online shopping malpractice may be forced to seek redress through expensive court settlements.

Barely half (52%) require companies to disclose energy consumption of home appliances; leaving consumers unaware of the environmental impact of the goods they buy.

Less than half (47%) use incentive measures – such as tax breaks, exemptions, and labelling schemes – to encourage consumer goods companies to be ethical and socially responsible.

The study also indicated a lack of commitment to consumer education, with only two in five governments indicating its inclusion within national school curricula and just 38% monitoring awareness of consumer rights within their borders. This comes despite consumer education and awareness being cited by many governments as a major tenet of effective consumer protection.

This survey paints the picture of a job half done. While progress has been made in many areas, there is still an unacceptable lack of consumer protection in others – both in the developed and developing world.

It shows that modern consumer concerns - such as digital rights, environmental impact, and corporate responsibility - are not being adequately addressed by governments. And where even the most basic consumer protection laws do exist, they are not being effectively enforced.

This is why, together with our member organisations and supporters, we are demanding better laws, effective policy and tougher enforcement, alongside an update to the UN Guidelines of Consumer Protection so that they truly reflect the legitimate needs of consumers across the world.

Such moves should be the least consumers can expect.
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Five Australian organisations are listed in the Members Directory of CI.  They are:

CHOICE is a not-for-profit organisation which has been researching and campaigning on behalf of consumers since 1959. With over 200,000 subscribers to their information products, CHOICE is the largest consumer organisation in Australia. Their aim is to ta...
The Consumers’ Federation of Australia (CFA) is the national peak body for consumer groups in Australia. With over 100 members including legal centres, health rights groups, local consumer organisations and public interest bodies CFA’s role is to put the ...
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) is an independent Commonwealth statutory authority. It was formed in 1995 to administer the Trade Practices Act 1974 and other acts. The ACCC promotes competition and fair trade in the market pla...
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) protects and promotes the interests of consumers. To do this they review and advise Government on consumer legislation and industry codes; advise and educate consumers, tenants, traders and landlords on their rights, respon...
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is the peak body for communications consumers in Australia. Our aims include but are not limited to: to promote available, affordable and accessible communications for all Australians; to provi...

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