Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Hong Kong jewellers face new panel for industry standards

But with code of conduct kept voluntary, new regime risks becoming toothless tiger

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 10:52pm

A new panel will keep an eye on Hong Kong’s jewellers and look to make sure the industry maintains standards, after the establishment on Monday of new professional guidelines, but the voluntary nature of the rules could risk the new regime becoming a toothless tiger.

The Code of Practice of the Jewellery Retail Industry will establish an independent review committee for compliance and for handling consumer complaints; introduce protection for online shoppers; and cover product quality assurance, promotions, customer services, and other things.

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The committee will consist of jewellery industry members and non-industry representatives. Former Liberal Party legislator Vincent Fang Kang will head it. If the committee finds jewellers have breached the guidelines, it could kick members out of professional associations, or deliver other, as yet unspecified, punishments.

The code of practice, brought about by the Consumer Council and two jewellers’ groups, took effect on Monday.

Lau Hak-bun, chairman of the Kowloon Pearls, Precious Stone, Jade, Gold and Silver Ornament Merchants Association, one of the groups involved, said the previous code of practice “had fallen short of changing [with] the business environment” and that he hoped the new code would “uplift the industry’s image and public confidence”.

Out of about 25,000 complaints to the Consumer Council in 2016, 272 involved the jewellery industry, mostly concerning poor sales practices and the quality of goods. That was down from 398 in 2015, the year work began on the code.

The council and the two jewellery associations – the other being the Hong Kong Jewellers’ and Goldsmiths’ Association – hoped that 60 per cent of the industry, which has 550 association members, would adopt the code within three years.

But without legal penalties for breaking the rules, sellers could just ignore the code, rendering it ineffective.

Consumer Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han denied that the new guidelines would be toothless, saying new provisions in the code would strengthen consumer protection on top of existing laws.

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“Because of so much new legislation [already] in place like the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, the Intellectual Property Ordinance and the Competition Ordinance, we can see that the industry has to comply with these regulations first,” she said. “Customer services and fair treatment to the consumers are very important, so we designed this code of practice to go beyond... the regulatory side.”

The industry made headlines in 2015 when a mainland shopper died shortly after collapsing in a Hung Hom jewellery shop on a “forced shopping” tour, after an argument involving the man, shop staff and a tour guide.

But Consumer Council chairman Professor Wong Yuk-shan said the new code was not in response to that incident – as the Hung Hum shop did not belong to any established jewellers’ association – or any wave of complaints against the jewellery industry.

“If you’re talking about the seriousness [of complaints], I don’t think it’s serious at all. It is because the sectors want to... ensure the confidence of the customers and that the whole sector is serving the public well enough,” he said.