A law on protecting consumer rights took effect on July 1 but putting it into practice will require some effort.
Consumers are a key factor in determining the development of goods and service markets. But the majority of consumers don’t fully understand their rights and have not only failed to protect themselves but have also not been protected adequately by authorities. A law on protecting consumer rights took effect on July 1 but some businesses will still take advantage of any loose implementation to abuse the rights of consumers. According to one expert, the rights of Vietnamese consumers are violated on a regular basis.
Consumers have experienced losses to their hip-pocket and perhaps at times even to their health. Newspapers and TV reported a few months ago on petrol stations with tampered meters that sold less petrol than showed.
Meanwhile, a range of products have been advertised during “prime-time” on TV recently, such as slimming drugs, skin treatments, traditional medicine for arthritis and so on. But the fact is that it is almost impossible to check the quality of such products without first buying and using them. When the products fail to perform as advertised, consumers take a hit.
Mr Nguyen Manh Hung, Deputy Chairman and General Secretary of the Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas), pointed to a range of factors for consumers being short-changed. There is still a limited sense of legal compliance and consumer protection among most enterprises.
In many cases enterprises are unaware of the provisions of the law and so do not meet their obligations to consumers. A great many businesses are also only focus on the profit motive, and so deliberately violate consumer rights.
Moreover, inspection, supervision and the handling of violations by State agencies have been less than adequate due to limited resources and mechanisms. In particular, awareness about self-protection among consumers is not high. “They don’t know anything about the law and how it can help them,” Mr Hung said.
So the new law is good news for consumers, as it increases their rights and promotes awareness.
There are 15 new points in the law, protecting consumer rights in accordance with international practice, together with eight basic rights. Personal information is protected, there are regulations on the responsibilities of third parties in providing information about goods and services, as well as regulations on responsibilities for recovering and providing compensation for goods, among others.
But only time will tell whether the law will actually be a “shield” protecting consumers from fake or poor quality goods or unsafe food. In the view of many experts, it will not be simple for the law to take full effect.
In 2008 market management forces checked and handled nearly 20,000 cases of fake or low quality goods infringing upon intellectual property and food safety laws and 4,000 cases of speculation. But penalties fell way short of the profits made from such violations, so many businesses simply accepted and paid the penalties.
More than half (55 per cent) of consumers are unaware of their rights, a talk-show on “Bringing the law on protecting consumer rights to life”, held on July 22 by the e-government portal with the attendance of leaders from the Ministry of Industry and Trade and Vinastas, heard. Moreover, many consumers don’t check information on origins or expiry dates carefully and don’t ask for a receipt and so have no way to return the goods.
In addition, with the general view of the population that complaining is a waste of time, coupled together with confusion about the law and the many hoops that must be jumped through when making a formal complaint, many consumers simply do nothing.
Ms Mai Hoa from Hanoi said that if she purchased fake or poor quality goods she would not complain. “It takes a lot of time and effort,” she explained. “The process for lodging a complaint is time-consuming and most people are already busy with family and work.” Whenever she is cheated she simply puts it down to bad luck.
According to figures from Vinastas, up to 62 per cent of Vietnamese consumers bought fake or poor quality goods in 2010 and in the first half of 2011, yet the number of complaints was much less.
Speaking on the talk-show, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Le Danh Vinh said that a range of factors are needed for the law on protecting consumer rights to be effectively put into practice.
The first is the role of State management agencies. “We have sent proposals to the government and people’s committees at all levels on protecting the rights of consumers,” he said.
Secondly, the sense of responsibility among organisations and individuals trading goods and services needs to be improved.
Thirdly, the role of organisations protecting consumer rights such as Vinastas needs to be bolstered. And, finally, awareness among consumers must be improved. When their interests are infringed upon they must stand up and protect their rights. “Ensuring the rights of consumers requires major efforts by all of society,” Deputy Minister Vinh said.
Mr Hung believes that when the law comes into effect it will address many of the problems but is sure to fall short of expectations. It is a long process, but “Vietnamese consumers must be educated about their rights immediately,” he said.