Revised consumer law to strengthen association

Updated: 2013-10-31 07:32

By Xu Wei (China Daily)

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The revised consumer rights law will boost the China Consumers' Association by redefining its role and solving its funding issues, according to experts.

The revision to the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, passed by the top legislature on Friday, redefines the China Consumers' Association as a social organization, a move that will alter its nature and address its funding problems. The revision will take effect on March 15.

The association was formerly defined as a social group, which only protected the interests of members who paid fees, and it could accept public donations.

"Quite unlike social groups, the consumers' association protects the interests of all consumers, whether they pay membership fees or not," Jiang Tianbo, secretary general of the China Consumers' Association, said at a symposium on the revised consumer rights law on Wednesday.

Jiang said the association has never accepted membership fees.

The revised consumer rights law also states that governments at different levels should be responsible for the funding of the association's branches in their region in the future.

The added clause could be a lifesaver for grassroots branches, many of which are struggling due to inadequate funding, said Wu Jingming, an associate professor of consumer rights law at China University of Political Science and Law.

"The provincial branches of the China Consumers' Association as well as the lower levels were waiting for the revision like a litigant waiting for a court verdict, as the law clauses will directly decide their fate," he said.

Funding issues will determine whether the association can fulfill its responsibility to stand up for the interests of consumers, he said.

The change in the nature of the association also means it can no longer accept any form of public donations, a former major funding source for some local branches.

The revised law includes a clause that the association may not profit from recommending products to consumers.

Under the new law, the association can still recommend products, even those by a specific producer, as long as they do not profit from doing so.

Jiang Tianbo, secretary-general of the association, said he believes recommending products by comparing samples is an integral part of the association's function.

"We compare the quality of some products and announce the results to the public. The choice is for the consumers to make," he said, adding that such comparisons are "a very good means of consumer education".

The revision authorizes association branches at the provincial level and higher to file public interest litigation. However, Jiang said the society will treat that right with caution and wait for judicial explanation from the top court on how such public interest litigation can be filed.

"We also need to learn from consumers groups in other countries about how public interest litigation is filed and how the litigation proceeds. That takes time," he said.

The association has handled some 12 million consumer complaint cases since 1994.