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China Observes World Consumer Rights Day

The day March 15 never passed by quietly since 1986 -- the year the China Consumers Association began to mark International Consumer Rights and Interests Day in China.

Today, as on March 15 in past years, personnel from local industrial and commercial administrative departments and consumers associations take to the streets to offer legal information and advise consumers about their rights and interests. Experts are also invited to give on-site consultations about product quality.

Scenes showing piles of shoddy and fake products being destroyed flash repeatedly on TV screens. Consumer complaints that have dragged on for a longtime without being properly handled may get resolved after the cases are exposed and businesses are forced to yield to public pressure.

Various activities, under the theme of "scientific and healthy consumption," have already kicked off at the beginning of this week and are expected to reach a climax today. The most prestigious TV station, China Central Television (CCTV), will air a live show tonight to mark the day.

Thanks to all of these activities over the years, Chinese consumers have received the message that paying attention to their own rights and interests pays off.

The ever-increasing enthusiasm from both consumers and the watchdog departments for March 15 consumer rights activities also is an indication that much still remains to be done in this area.

Industrial and commercial administrative departments and consumers associations recognize they must continue to use the day to increase awareness about consumer rights. And consumers still use the day to address their complaints to relevant departments and seek help.

Under a sound protection system, consumers would not have waited until March 15 to get their complaints properly handled.

But protecting consumers' rights and interests remains a fledgling operation, thus current loopholes should not be the cause for undue pessimism.

Under the planned economic system, when the country suffered critically from short supplies of consumption materials, giving recognition to consumers' rights and interests would have been unrealistic.

It was no surprise, therefore, that in the early period when the country underwent a transition to the market economy in the late 1970s, most Chinese people still had no idea of what consumers' rights really were.

Since the sudden rich supply of commodity goods from multiple channels throughout China, cases involving violations of consumer rights and interests have been on the upswing.

Previously, most consumers silently tolerated violations of their rights, blaming the situation on bad luck.

For those bold enough to seek a fair solution for their suffering, the end result was often unsuccessful due to the lack of legal tools. Individual consumers were at great disadvantage compared with powerful businesses.

In a move to combat frequent infringements upon consumer rights and the serious damage they brought about, the Law on Protecting Consumers' Rights and Interests went into effect in 1994.

Assisting with the long and arduous process of seeking protection for consumers' rights and interests, the China Consumers Association deserves loud applause for its strenuous efforts.

Set up in December 1984, it now has branches at various government levels across the country, which are responsible for offering consultations to consumers and handling their complaints.

By nearly all measures, the current system of protecting consumer rights and interests has been improved. Consumers are becoming educated and developing a greater sense of self-protection. In addition, the legal system has been strengthened and businesses are gradually adopting consumer-orientated operations.

Nevertheless, it's still too early to claim a victory. The road ahead is equally, if not more, rocky.

Today, shoddy and fake products, which have penetrated into almost every corner of the market, constitute the biggest and most serious threat to consumers.

Current laws are blamed for being inefficient in dealing with such cases. Those engaged in making shoddy and fake products can often easily reopen their businesses in new sites after they are caught and fined. Compared with exorbitant profits gained illegally, the punishment is too lenient to stop illegal practices.

Regional protectionism also bears the blame for the rampant production of sub-standard products. Producers of fake products who hand overtaxes to local governments can seek shelter under the protection umbrella held by local officials.

Price fraud, insufficient product information disclosure and the monopolized operation of some sectors are new areas of concentration for consumer complaints.

It is an urgent task for the government to eradicate shoddy and fake products and regulate market order, which is in the interests of consumers and is also essential for the country's opening-up drive.

Perhaps March 15 will someday be a time for celebration, when the day no longer attracts so much attention or bears so much weight in consumers’ lives.

(China Daily March 15, 2002)

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