Retiring consumer chief Connie Lau to head new UN body

Connie Lau's hopes of a well-earned break are put on hold by job as head of new UN body

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 3:28am

Connie Lau Yin-hing, who retires this month as chief executive of Consumer Council, is to head a newly created UN consumer rights body.

Lau, who has worked for the consumer watchdog for 38 years and has been its chief executive since 2007, had been expecting some leisure time after her last day on November 15.

But her break will now be shortened - she will start work in a few months as chairwoman of a working group set up by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, helping developing countries build consumer-protection frameworks.

"I'll continue to work on consumer protection, but at the global level," she said yesterday.

An important task will be reviewing and revising the UN Consumer Protection Guideline, introduced in 1985.

"Online shopping is now popular. There are also a lot of complex investment products in the market," she explained, adding that changes were necessary to bring the guidelines up-to-date.

Lau, who will remain in Hong Kong, joins two other leading local figures working for the world body.

Former health director Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun is director-general of the World Health Organisation. Hong Kong Observatory director Shun Chi-ming is vice-chairman of the World Meteorological Organisation's typhoon committee.

Lau said she had high hopes that her successor in the council, Gilly Wong Fung-han, would continue the fight to promote recently passed consumer protection measures.

"The passing of the three consumer rights-related ordinances has been the most precious present for my retirement," Lau said, referring to the Competition Bill, Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Bill, and Trade Descriptions Bill, which were passed at the end of the last legislative term.

"But passing the bills is not an end to the matter. It is just the beginning of a new mission, which is to promote the new law and educate the public about their rights protected under the ordinances," she said.

Three items remain on her wish-list, two of them being a follow-up to the new laws.

These are a cooling-off period for pre-paid service contracts during which consumers can withdraw from the contracts at no cost, and allowing individuals to launch lawsuits against companies under the new Competition Law.

With the latter being banned for now, individuals can take their complaints only to the future Competition Tribunal, which involves a lengthy process.

She would also like to see the stepping up of the regulation of beauty centres.

Referring to the death of a woman after receiving a blood transfusion during "health therapy" last month, she said clear definitions to separate medical treatments from beauty treatments would be an effective measure for the unregulated trade.