Hong Kong 2003
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Consumer Protection

Consumer Council

The Consumer Council is a statutory body established in April 1974 for protecting and promoting the interests of consumers of goods and services and purchasers of immovable property. The council comprises a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and 20 members appointed by the Government from a wide spectrum of the community. It forms committees and working groups to deal with specific consumer protection tasks. The council office is headed by a chief executive, and has seven functional divisions and a staff of 124.

The council carries out its functions through its consumer policy work, complaint and advice service, research and survey programmes, publications and consumer education activities.

The council's testing and survey programmes seek to provide consumers with objective and up-to-date information so that they can make informed choices. During the year, 46 product tests, 52 in-depth studies and 16 survey projects were completed. Most products were tested mainly for their safety, performance, convenience, durability and environmental impact. The tests and surveys covered a wide range of products and services, from home theatre components (DVD players, loudspeakers) and cosmetics to information disclosure by mandatory provident fund scheme service providers. In regard to products, digital cameras have been continuously tested in the light of their rising popularity. In view of the sluggish economy, the council also conducted a series of studies on consumer credit such as debt relief solutions, charges and services of professionals for voluntary insolvency. As a member of the International Consumer Research and Testing Ltd, a testing body of consumer organisations, the council shares its test results and collaborates with members on international comparative tests, producing quality reports in a more cost-effective manner.

The council provides complaint and advice services to the community through an extensive network of telephone hotlines and 11 Consumer Advice Centres. It acts as mediator between consumers and the traders concerned. During the year, 26 501 consumer complaints and 140 484 consumer enquiries were received, the highest figure on record. Telecommunications services continued to top the list of consumer complaints.

In view of the importance of competitive markets to consumer welfare, the council conducts research, disseminates information and tenders advice on competition-related issues. The council's chief executive is a member of the Competition Policy Advisory Group, and the council made a number of submissions in response to public consultation papers that raised issues affecting competition. The council also published a research study on the state of competition in the retailing of foodstuffs and household necessities, and disseminated an advisory guideline on how to identify and prevent the anti-competitive practice of 'bid-rigging', for use by parties seeking tenders.

The council is practically in daily contact with the mass media on all matters of consumer interest and concern. Its monthly magazine, CHOICE, regularly publishes findings of comparative product tests and service surveys providing useful and practical information, advice and viewpoints to the public. The magazine's reach extends far beyond its average monthly circulation of 31 298, penetrating virtually all sectors of the community through extensive media coverage and press statements published at the council's website. The Consumer Rights Reporting Awards 2003 continued to attract entries of high quality from journalists in all sectors of the media. The award presentation ceremony of this annual event was held on the World Consumer Rights Day, which falls on March 15 every year.

The fourth Consumer Culture Study Award organised during the year encouraged secondary school students to conduct their own studies of the local consumer culture. A total of 360 teams, comprising 2 300 students from 91 schools, participated in this programme.

The Consumer Council Resource Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, which has been operating since 2002, provides consumer complaint and advice services, a resource library and multimedia computers by which visitors can access educational resources. Talks, visits and workshops were also organised at the centre.

The Consumer Legal Action Fund aims to give greater consumer access to legal remedies and to provide legal assistance to consumers with meritorious cases. The fund, with the council as its trustee, is administered by a board of administrators underpinned by a management committee with members appointed by the Government. Since its establishment in 1994, the fund has considered 58 groups of cases, with the number of applicants in each case ranging from one to more than 800.

In networking, the council is an executive and a council member of the Consumers International (CI), of which its chief executive is former President. The CI is a federation of 271 consumer organisations in 123 countries dedicated to the protection and promotion of consumer interests. The council also maintains regular contacts with its counterparts overseas and in the Mainland. During the year, 293 officials from various parts of the Mainland visited the council's office as part of their training programmes and there were also visitors from other consumer organisations and international bodies.

Enforcement of Consumer Protection Legislation

The Customs and Excise Department carries out spot checks and investigations to ensure that toys, children's products and consumer goods supplied in Hong Kong are safe. It also has responsibilities in protecting consumers from fraudulent traders who offer goods of deceptive weights and measures or products made of gold and platinum that have deceptive markings. In 2003, the department carried out 3 563 spot checks and 1 062 investigations. It also organised talks for traders to promote their awareness of product safety.

In the area of consumer protection, the Government Laboratory continues to support the Customs and Excise Department in enforcing the product safety legislation. In 2003, the Laboratory undertook more than 21 000 tests to determine whether or not the various tested items including toys, children's products and consumer goods were in compliance with relevant safety standards. In particular, urgent hygienic tests on a large number of personal protective products such as face masks, disposable towels and latex gloves were carried out. Assessments of potential hazards posed by commodities that failed the safety tests were also conducted. In the investigation of fraudulent trade practices, the Laboratory continued its role in verification of measuring equipment for use by traders and determination of fineness of gold and platinum articles.

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