Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A lift for consumer protection in China

CI’s Luke Upchurch on how our newest Supporter organisation is a step in the right direction for consumer protection in China.

Apparently, there are 1.6 million elevators in the China. It’s one of those statistics that brings home the enormity of this nation and the mind-boggling size of its growth.

It was also the subject of a memorable anecdote at the launch of China’s first Research Centre for Policy and Law on Global Consumer Protection. The Centre is the latest organisation to take advantage of our new CI Supporter category of association.

Established by Wuhan University, one of China’s oldest academic institutions, the Centre is one of only a handful in the world dedicated to the study and development of global consumer protection and law. CI was at the inaugural event to present our latest findings on the state of consumer protection and welcome the Centre into the global consumer movement.

The ‘elevator pitch’, put forward by an eminent law professor at the event, began by pointing to the safety regulations for lifts in China: the frequency of effective inspections, the need for certification, the liability of the building’s owners and the statutory rights of anyone injured whilst using the elevator.

Consumer protection in China, the professor argued, needed to adopt a similar framework. It was a thought-provoking example; one of many during this two day event.

For instance Connie Lau, until recently head of the Hong Kong Consumer Council and now adviser to UNCTAD, spoke of the conflict between prudential regulation of financial services and consumer protection – a point picked up by Wuhan’s Professor Zhou who raised the failures of the Chinese regulators to stamp out malpractices.

In the same vain, Ying Yu of the Wuhan Centre pointed to the fact that China had as yet no bank deposit guarantee for consumers in operation, despite being under consideration for many years.

Both of these issues have been recently highlighted in CI’s work on the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection (the focus of the Wuhan conference).   

Other interventions focused on the remarkable level of internet use in China. Wuhan University’s Professor Qisheng HE pointed out that there are 538 million web users in China – 210 million of which shop online, 187 million are online bank users.

These are staggering figures for a country that – like many others – has few viable avenues for consumers to seek redress in online commerce disputes. There were also revealing presentations on counterfeit consumption, sustainability, data security, as well as much on the UN Guidelines.

From the degree of understanding and analysis on display at the event, it’s clear that some in China have woken up to the need for higher standards of consumer protection – not just to reassure global markets about the quality of its exports, but also as a harbinger of growth in its own domestic consumer economy.

A point further emphasised by recent indications that the authorities are considering allowing China’s consumers to pursue class actions for the first time.

The Wuhan Centre is a milestone on a journey, not only as a means for China to explore international standards in consumer protection, but also for the rest of the world to understand the impact of consumer rights development in a country that boasts one-sixth of the world’s population. What happens here will, and does, affect us all.

Those clever minds in China looking at consumer protection already know the pressing issues at hand. As do most Chinese consumers: product safety, fake goods, sustainability, financial services, digital consumer rights and, above all, effective legislation and enforcement.

The Wuhan Centre, and, by acquiescence, China’s authorities know the benefits an international perspective can bring to this challenge: it is why both the state and China’s consumer rights experts are so keen to get involved in the revision of the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection – something CI is uniquely placed to offer the Wuhan Centre, along with our other Members, Supporters, and partners in China and across the world.

By becoming a CI Supporter organisation we hope the rest of the global consumer rights movement can help the Wuhan Centre navigate a path of best practice as it seeks to elevate consumer justice and protection for China's 1.35 billion people.  

If you would like to find out more about becoming a Member or Supporter of CI, please visit the Join us section on the CI website.

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