Last updated: Thursday, May 16, 2013
One-year Enforcement of Law on Consumer Rights ProtectionPosted: Monday, July 30, 2012
The Law on Consumer Rights Protection was ratified by the lawmaking National Assembly on November 17, 2010 and took effect on July 1, 2011. The introduction of the law was considered a major turning point in consumer rights protection in Vietnam. During the first year of enforcement, State management agencies, consumer protection organisations, business community, consumers and the entire society have made a great effort to bring it to life. In addition to positive results, there are a lot of weaknesses and problems in consumer protection.
Increased respect to consumer rights
At the seminar "Looking back on one-year enforcement of Law on Consumer Rights Protection” held by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Hanoi, an official from the Vietnam Competition Administration Department under the Ministry of Industry and Trade said after a year the Law on Consumer Rights Protection came into force, consumer rights protection has been improved significantly.
More and more consumers have better understanding of their legitimate rights. They actively seek information and employ their knowledge to protect themselves or seek justice and protection from authorities, organisations and social agencies. Authorities disseminate the spirit and contents of the law to consumers and enterprises.
According to the statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, during 2011, more than 550 complaints were lodged to local departments of industry and trade, nearly 2,000 to consumer-rights' associations and 60 to the Vietnam Competition Administration Department. Although the figures were small in comparison with reality, more people know their rights and placed their trusts in consumer protection authorities.
Specifically, in a bid to provide better protection to consumers, the Ministry of Industry and Trade is test-running a call centre that collects consumers’ complaints. With the advent of this system, consumers and protection agencies can quickly reflect information and complaints to the ministry. Then, competent authorities will take action to resolve those complaints to protect the rights and interests of consumers.
Notably, consumers’ sense of observance of Law on Consumer Rights Protection has been lifted up while producers have paid more attention to brand building. In particular, producers actively observed the Article 22 on responsible recall of defect products. More than 10 companies reclaimed their 15,000 defect products although most cases did not find any harm to users. Before this law took effect, product recalls were very rare.
Besides, enterprises registered contract forms with general terms and conditions stipulated by the law. Up to now, 133 contract forms are in use at the Vietnam Competition Administration Department and local trade and industry authorities. Specially, large companies like Vietnam Airlines, Vietnam Railway Corporation, Electricity of Vietnam, VNPT Group, Viettel Group and Hoa Phat Group also registered to use contract forms and general transaction conditions. Through these activities, consumer protection authorities have discovered wrongdoings and illegal acts directly harming consumers.
Joint effort of entire society
Due to its complexity and sensitivity, consumer rights protection requires the effort of State authorities responsible for consumer rights protection and other concerned entities. However, after a year enforcing the Law on Consumer Rights Protection, competent organs and related bodies make light of consumer rights protection, particularly at local levels. In centrally governed provinces and cities, the Departments of Industry and Trade are tasked to assist Provincial/Municipal People's Committees to exercise the State power on this aspect. But, to date, very few departments are fully aware of their responsibilities stipulated by the Law. Therefore, the enforcement of the law has not been carried out in an active, frequent and effective way. Some local authorities even applied the laws in a wrong way.
One of the most common reasons is the insufficiency of resources for the job. A thin workforce is assigned to take on a huge volume of complicated works, from propaganda and consumer support to sample contract management and violation settlement. The Vietnam Competition Administration Department has only 10 staffs for this division. In provinces and cities, there are no official employment contracts for this job. Worse, the coordination of State management agencies, social organisations and other agencies is lax and ineffective.
To bring the spirit of the law into life and resolve the above problems, according to the Vietnam Competition Administration Department, Vietnam needs to focus on training personnel for this mission. It needs to gradually establish and complete State apparatus for consumer rights protection from central to local levels. In this regard, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Home Affairs will issue a joint circular guiding operations of State management over the protection of consumer rights at local level. They will define divisions, functions and tasks in charge of consumer rights protection at Provincial/Municipal Departments of Industry and Trade.
Consumers and business communities are two very important subjects as they are directly governed by the Law. Therefore, to apply provisions of the Law on a broad scale and in a serious manner, consumers and business communities must be well-informed of the law. The Ministry of Industry and Trade said this activity must be carried out frequently and the contents must be rich and suitable for subjects.
Consumer Protection Fund is needed
Mr Phung Dac Loc, General Secretary of the Vietnam Insurance Association
To better apply the Law on Consumers Rights Protection, it is necessary to add more solutions like empowering the market management agency under the Ministry of Industry and Trade to undertake the task of protecting consumer rights. As this agency, with its affiliates operating at provincial and district levels, manages the circulation of goods and services, thus, it can deal with claims from consumers easily, effectively and quickly.
Besides, there is a need to form consumer protection funds in sensitive industries like electricity, water, aviation, railway, post and telecom. Providers of these products and services must pay fees on their revenues to pay consumers when they terminate their service.
Besides, organisations and individuals involved in commodities and services that may cause damage or harm to the life and health of humans, animals and plants are obliged to buy liability insurance. In case of damage, it is impossible for small business households or even small enterprises to afford compensations for consumers, especially if they are involved in food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals chemicals, animal and plant protection substances, fertiliser, seed crops, shampoo, hair dyes, etc.
Hard to protect foodstuff consumers
Representative from Department of Industry and Trade, Lang Son Province
Protecting food consumers is very important but this is very difficult to implement. Although the expense for foods is not very big but they are used daily and all people must live on them. Unsafeness threats are high and hard to manage. Most food suppliers are small business units without regular examination on their products. They even do not register for doing their business. Therefore, there is a high need to protect food consumers. Handling violations in this field is very complicated, cost-intensive and time-consuming. It is very difficult to have timely and accurate decisions in a short time. If persons in charge commit a mistake, their act will leave immeasurable damage on producers. Many producers were sent to misery, even went bankrupt or lost brand names because of wrong decisions.
Some provisions lack transparency
Dr Nguyen Thi Van Anh, Hanoi Law University
Some provisions of the Law on Consumer Rights Protection lack transparency.
Provisions in Article 5 are unclear and insufficient for the protection of consumer rights. From Clause 1 to Clause 5, provisions actually define directions and objectives of consumer rights protections, not include full contents of a consumer protection policy. In my opinion, consumer protection policies aim to realise rights and interests of consumers.
According to Clause 2, Article 10, organisations and individuals involved n trading in goods and services are banned from harassing consumers and are imposed to fines in the following two cases: Marketing against the consent of consumers in two or more times; - Other acts of obstructing the work and normal activities of consumers
This definition is unclear because it does not define what behaviours are considered impeding normal work and activities of consumers. What criteria are used to define an act as a hindrance to normal work and activities of consumers? It is easily to see that marketing against the will of consumers is also an act of impeding normal work and activities of consumers but violators must commit twice to be subject to the law. This regulation easily leads to misinterpretation and this is difficult for authorities to apply the law and handle violations.