Backed by revised law, Chinese consumers rise to the occasion

Source:Xinhua Published: 2014-3-16 9:18:10

For many Chinese diners, the freedom to spend as much as they like and drink whatever they want is hard earned.

"I've always said 'okay' when restaurants stopped me from bringing inside the drinks I brought elsewhere, but from now on I'll stand up for my rights since the law has clearly made it invalid," said Hao Quan, a resident in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province.

Under the newly amended consumer rights law that takes effect Saturday, "minimum consumption fees for VIP rooms" and "the ban of drinks and beverages brought elsewhere" -- two common practices adopted by profit-obsessed restaurants and known as "bully rules" among consumers -- are now defunct.

Although including stipulations concerning the service industries, the original law, which was enacted more than 20 years ago, was rather outdated and vague when it came to specific conflicts between consumers and service providers.

The amendment aims to improve the protection of consumers' rights and interests, boost consumer confidence and promote rational consumption that should be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, said Li Shishi, chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, while introducing the amendment to the legislative body last year.

Recently, commerce administrative bureau in Hao's city inspected dozens of restaurants concerning the so-called "bully rules" and ordered those in question to rectify their behaviors.

Dining is only one field targetted by the revised law.

The law regulates merchandise and service transactions through the Internet, television, phone and post for the first time, allowing e-shoppers to unconditionally return goods for refund within seven days after transactions.

However, it requires consumers to pay logistics costs for returning the purchase and lists products not suitable for unconditional returns and refunds, such as digital downloads, bespoke products, fresh and perishable goods as well as products about which the two sides agree on the return policy in advance.

The China Consumers' Association received more than 20,000 complaints about online purchase in 2012 nationwide, about half of them about purchases of goods and service.

"The new articles boost consumers' confidence as well as their passion for e-shopping. I believe this year's 'Double Elevens' will be fiercer," said Zhang Guosheng, a senior official with the Shanxi provincial consumers' associations, referring to the annual Nov. 11 shopping spree.

Besides endorsing unconditional return, the law also has strict regulations on how operators should collect and use personal information and what punishment offenders will receive.

"Business operators and related personnel should strictly keep identity information of consumers confidential and should not leak, sell or illegally provide it to others," it said.

According to Zhang, rampant sales of individual information have led to a huge number of junk promotional messages that have been disturbing people's normal lives.

"Everybody knows it's the merchants that leak those contacts, but previously nobody was rightfully responsible to address the problem," Zhang said.

The new stipulation regulates how banks, telecom, hotel and e-businessmen should handle such info, and less junk messages can be expected, Zhang added.

With an updated law in place, Zong Shouyun, a researcher with Jilin's provincial consumers' association, urged all relevant parties to work together for a sound consumption environment.

"Business providers should be honest and improve their service quality; consumers should know the law and lawfully protect their rights; consumers' associations should bring knowledge of rights protection to consumers."

"Only combo efforts can deter wrongdoings," Zong added.

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