Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Hong Kong customs clamps down on retailer malpractices and unsafe goods in holiday season

Furniture is the category with the most reported cases of unsafe goods, while vegetable sellers were involved in the most malpractices this year

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 10:06am

The arrival of the holiday shopping season has prompted Hong Kong authorities to step up efforts to clamp down on the sale of unsafe goods and malpractices by retailers.

The move comes despite the rate of prosecutions remaining relatively stable compared with last year.

On Friday, the Customs and Excise Department said that between January and October this year, it had received 138 reports of unsafe consumer goods, a slight increase from 133 in the same period last year.

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The number of reported cases of short-weight malpractices – classified under fraudulent use of weighing equipment and fabrication of product weight – fell 32 per cent from 518 in the first 10 months of last year to 352 in the same period this year.

Out of the 138 reports of unsafe goods, furniture accounted for the biggest group with 35 cases, followed by beauty products and children’s products, with 27 cases each.

The department has prosecuted nine retailers for selling unsafe goods and launched 72 investigations so far this year. It made 14 successful prosecutions over such cases in the whole of last year.

Vegetables sellers were involved in 103 reports of short-weight malpractice, making up the biggest group, followed by seafood sellers, who accounted for 61 reports.

Out of short-weight cases, there were 13 successful prosecutions and 40 investigations launched. Officials made 28 successful prosecutions of this kind in the whole of last year.

Kenny Chan Kwok-kee, head of the consumer protection bureau under the department, said apart from acting on reports and complaints from the public, his team had recently targeted sellers of Christmas goods.

“We have already bought some Christmas toys for testing. We will follow up if they are found to violate safety regulations,” Chan said.

“We will inspect some winter-related goods like hot water bags and hot water flasks,” he said, “We will also clamp down especially on short-weight malpractice as people shop for ingredients like dried seafood … preparing big feasts for the winter solstice.”

Chan cited a case in February 2016 in which a local drug dispensary was prosecuted for selling unsafe hot water bags. The products were at risk of ripping open under high pressure. The owner of the shop was fined HK$6,000 and 18 of the items, totalling HK$360, were confiscated.

The Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance stipulates that sellers have legal responsibilities to ensure their products are safe for consumption, for example, by checking with manufacturers and conducting safety tests.

Chan said in July this year, a seafood restaurant in Sai Kung was sued for overcharging an undercover customs officer HK$189 for four mantis shrimps. The owner was found to have overstated the weight of the products and was fined HK$12,000.

“I recommend that shoppers buy only from stores with good reputations,” Chan said.

“They should avoid [products with] – no quality or labelling of safety standards, no information on the manufacturer, and no information on the date of manufacturing.”