OECD urges government and industry to overhaul consumer protection for Internet and other shoppers

OECD urges government and industry to overhaul consumer protection for Internet and other shoppers16/07/2007 – OECD countries have agreed a new approach to better protect the rights of consumers and make online shopping safer. They call on national authorities and business to make it easier, cheaper and quicker for people to resolve complaints and get compensation when they are unhappy with goods or services they have bought.The OECD Recommendation on Consumer Dispute Resolution and Redress offers a roadmap for consumer protection agencies to address the practical and legal obstacles that many consumers face when trying to exchange goods or get their money back from firms, in their own country or abroad.Most OECD countries already have laws or self-regulated schemes to help consumers, ranging from small claims courts to credit card protection and collective action lawsuits. But most of these were designed before e-commerce took off and are poorly suited to handling cross-border complaints. The Recommendation advises countries on steps they should take to update their laws to take into account these new developments.It also calls on member countries to develop bi-lateral or multi-lateral arrangements in order to improve international judicial co-operation and use technology more effectively, making it easier to share information across borders.In addition to a framework that details the basic elements necessary to an effective consumer dispute resolution and redress mechanism, it highlights the need for countries, both at a government level and via consumer protection agencies, to tell consumers who to approach when they have a problem and what they can do to resolve it. Companies should also set out clear, simple policies that explain what steps customers should follow to make a complaint and then have it resolved.Consumers should also have the right to band together to take legal action against a firm, known as “collective action lawsuits.” This is important because in most European countries even if consumers have the right to take collective action in principle, there are so many restrictions that in practice they cannot. This means that their only option is take a firm to court on their own, which is usually too expensive for most people to even consider.The Recommendation builds on a substantial body of OECD work carried out over the past decade on consumer policy issues. These include the 1999 OECD Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of Electronic Commerce (www.oecd.org/dataoecd/18/13/34023235.pdf), the 2003 OECD Guidelines for Protecting Consumers from Fraudulent and Deceptive Commercial Practices Across Borders (www.oecd.org/dataoecd/24/33/2956464.pdf) and a 2005 Report on Consumer Dispute Resolution and Redress in the Global Marketplace (www.oecd.org/dataoecd/26/61/36456184.pdf).

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