ON THE LEFT: Legal issues must still be addressed
CONSUMERS INTERNATIONAL (CI) gathered the views of 80 of its members on the state of consumer protection in their respective countries. Members from across all four (CI) regions – Africa, Asia Pacific Central Asia and the Middle East, Europe and North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean – participated in the research.
The four objectives of this research were to established the top three advances in consumer protection since 2012 and to identify the factors driving those advances, identify challenges or barriers to consumer protection and the effectiveness of legislation and the relevant consumer protection institutions in addressing them, examine the types of measures used to improve the situation for consumers and how effective each has been, and provide a distinct focus on e-commerce and issues relating to consumer protection in the digital economy.
New legislation is the factor most commonly thought to have delivered consumer protection advances in the last three years and there is an appetite for more: over a quarter of members (26 per cent) pointed to new or revised legislation as being the single most useful action that could be taken to improve consumer protection in their country.
Yet at the same time, a clear majority of members viewed existing legislation as ineffective in addressing the key causes of consumer detriment they had identified.
That may, of course, be a spur for new legislation, but given 25 per cent of members referred to instances where consumer protection exists on paper, but not in practice, it may not be a panacea.
As the digital economy grows and evolves, it poses a number of challenges for those working in the consumer interest.
Some – like how best to ensure legislative, regulatory and standards frameworks are fit for purpose in an era where technology moves faster than the wheels of consumer protection processes can turn – emerge here, echoing the finding’s of CI’s 2013 survey.
Others, such as the need to establish respect for consumer data and privacy are well documented elsewhere. All of these challenges will demand ever more of the attention and time of CI and its members in the coming years – not least as the Internet becomes the platform on which every sector, from utilities to financial services, reorganises its affairs.
But as access to the digital economy and digital technologies become ubiquitous, new means and opportunities for delivering consumer protection become available.
Although new legislation was the most cited advance in consumer protection – 40 per cent of members made reference to it – responses to other questions covering this topic revealed a more complex picture.
For example, while few members (ten per cent) cited the lack of sufficiently robust legislation as a primary contributor to consumer detriment in their countries, 66 per cent did judge existing legislation to be ineffective in addressing the issues they did cite.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, more members (26 per cent) felt that, of the measures available, additional or revised legislation would be the single most useful action to increase effective consumer protection.
With regards to measures used to improve the situation for consumers in their country, regulatory interventoins were cited by 44 per cent of members, making it by far the most commonly cited measure.
Beyond additional or revised legislation and strengthened regulation and enforcement, members chose forming and/or increasing the power and resources of independent consumer groups (25 per cent) and action to increase consumer awareness (19 per cent) as the other single most useful actions that could be taken to improve consumer protection.