Activists want more consumer awareness

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am

A mainland survey that found most consumers chose to keep quiet when they had complaints about products and services prompted calls yesterday from activists about the need for greater consumer awareness.

An online survey by China News Service showed that more than 63 per cent of participants would 'bear it in silence' if their consumer rights were violated, while 22 per cent said they would negotiate with merchants.

Only 7 per cent of participants said they would complain to industry and commerce authorities.

When asked what stopped them seeking redress, more than 70 per cent said it was too costly and more than 20 per cent said they had no knowledge of the relevant regulations and laws.

Ye Maoliang, a consumer-rights activist in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, said that in most cases, consumers who filed a complaint with commerce authorities had a slim chance of success because the authorities had limited staff and sometimes showed little interest. Mr Ye said he had even sued the Wenzhou supervision bureau of industry and commerce for not doing its job.

Fellow consumer activist Zhang Hongfeng of Xiangtan, Hunan province, said it was a sad reality on the mainland that filing an official complaint with authorities was not a smooth process.

'The authorities have their own procedures while ordinary citizens have their own way, which often results in complaints falling on deaf ears,' said Mr Zhang, who regularly uses his weblog to expose substandard goods.

'From my experience, consumers often use long, sensational words to describe their experience and feelings [about products], while authorities only want simple facts such as when and where the purchase took place, the substance of the complaint and what the consumer wants to do with the goods.'

Filing complaints regarding food and medicine, which fall under the supervision of several departments, was even more complicated because consumers had no idea where to go, Mr Zhang said.

He said it took an ordinary citizen an enormous amount of time and money to file a complaint.

Mr Zhang said that in 2007 he spent 20,000 yuan (HK$22,700) to have a government-authorised agency determine whether air conditioners he had bought had been recycled.

The air conditioners cost only 18,000 yuan but the official finding helped him win a long dispute with the air-conditioner manufacturer.

'If the test results were in the manufacturers' favour, the cost of the test would be on me. I don't think that many consumers would go ahead [with the tests] once they knew this,' Mr Zhang said.

Getting complaints dealt with often took so much time that consumers just gave up, he said.

'It's a sad fact that now consumers have to be an expert in such things as filing a complaint or having an agency test for product quality. It shouldn't be like this.'