Consumer protection system

The Cabinet this month endorsed a bill to create a new system to help consumers suffering financial damage from malicious sales and business practices. The new bill would allow consumer organizations to file lawsuits against businesses that cheat, swindle or otherwise harm consumers.

Currently, they can only ask businesses to stop harmful practices through lawsuits. On top of that, the new bill will allow them to file lawsuits to get compensation or to retrieve unjust profits gained by businesses. The added strength to launch litigation with real consequences is long overdue.

Until now, consumers who entered into contracts for services such as English lessons or aesthetic treatments had a hard time canceling or changing their contracts. Many businesses would simply ignore attempts to change or cancel contracts, though legally consumers are allowed to do so. If the company refused, the only recourse for those customers would be to hire a lawyer, which could be more expensive than the refund. Most consumers would have to give up and resign themselves to being cheated.

Now, however, the government will allow consumer organizations to file lawsuits on behalf of victimized consumers to stop questionable business practices as well as to get compensation or retrieve unjust profits realized by businesses.

Being allowed to file lawsuits is important because those organizations will now be using legal power, with serious consequences, to ensure that contracts are handled fairly and consumers well protected. Knowing they could become a target of a lawsuit by a government-sanctioned consumer organization, businesses will become more cautious about engaging in illegal, quasi-legal or malicious practices.

The other benefit of this change will be accumulating data on how widespread fraudulent business practices really are. Up to now, many consumers had to simply give up their search for retribution, without help or leaving any record. One big advantage of setting up such a system is to more comprehensively monitor and record these problems and find better courses of action.

Instead of curbing abuses through individual lawsuits, which can be expensive, time-consuming and not necessarily productive, the organizations can rely on consistent application of principles and establish meaningful precedents.

That means the consumer organizations will be working more efficiently for the overall public good. Individual cases will now be able to combine in a consistent way to address the same problems. That will benefit all consumers.

The government should implement this system of class action by consumer organizations as soon as possible and be sure to notify the public about how to best utilize the system. Widespread awareness of the problems of consumer contracts and the threat of action against harmful business practices will also boost consumer confidence and ensure that the long-awaited economic upturn, if it arrives, will be fair and equal for all consumers.

  • Spudator

    Sounds good in theory, but will it work in practice? Notice the following line in the editorial:

    The new bill would allow consumer organizations to file lawsuits against businesses that cheat, swindle or otherwise harm consumers.

    The weasel word here is “allow”; consumer organisations will now have the option to get tough with businesses that harm consumer interests, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually take up the option.

    A few years ago I was having problems with a Japanese employer that had lied to me about the kind of job I’d be doing if I worked for them. I accepted the job and then ran into difficulties because I found I was expected to do work I wasn’t qualified to do. The company’s response to this was to ignore my rights under the Labour Standards Law and try to summarily fire me for a state of affairs that was entirely due to their dishonesty. I took the matter to the Labour Standards Office and eventually managed to reach a compromise solution with the company.

    What astonished me, however, was that an organisation–the Labour Standards Office–that was supposed to be on my side saw its role merely as a go-between, dividing its loyalty between my employer and me in order not to favour either side. My champion was in cahoots with my enemy! And they chose this stance despite the law being quite clearly on my side.

    In other words, here was a government organisation that could bring the full weight of the law down on a lawbreaking business, yet they chose the Japanese way of reaching a solution that wouldn’t disturb the wa–and to hell with human rights and the rule of law. Had they met their moral obligations to me, I’d probably have done better than have to accept a compromise.

    I hope Japanese consumer organisations, now that they’re going to be given some legal teeth, will choose to use those teeth on behalf of their clients. But I’m not holding my breath. My Labour Standards Office had extremely sharp legal teeth (Japanese labour laws are actually quite onerous on employers–when enforced), yet they chose to curl up like a cuddly little puppy dog in the lap of my employer. Some upholder of the law they turned out to be!

    But any foreign national who’s lived here for any length of time knows what a strange country Japan is. It pretends to be a democracy like those in the West, by paying lip service to such imported Western principles as human rights and the rule of law, but in fact is still a feudal society where ordinary people are expected to know their place, accept their lot, and kowtow to their masters.

    Japan is a land where the concept of the rights of the individual and, more particularly, the concept of advocacy of those rights are still alien. It’s a land where laws for the protection of citizens have been passed, but are often just window dressing designed to make it look Western, and are never enforced. I wonder how, in such an environment, this new consumer protection system can hope to succeed.

    • phu

      The information you present — I call it that instead of opinion or experience because it seems to be universal to those who will discuss it rationally and have actually been in relevant situations — is a large part of the reason I gave up the idea, early on, of working for a Japanese company or the Japanese government.

      Japan is a great place, and the changes we’re expecting are massive in the face of their long-standing culture and traditions, but the problem isn’t failure to change: As you point out, they’ve already stated acceptance of so many societal tenets those in the West find anywhere between important and necessary. The real problem in this area is that such pronouncements are meaningless in the face of “shoganai” and myriad other immediate and thoughtless dismissals.

      You wonder rhetorically how something like this can hope to succeed… the answer would be the same kind of “well, let’s not blame or upset anyone [who is Japanese],” just as in your employment experience.

      I do hope Japan can some day step up and honor the commitments it’s already made (these and others), or at least strike those laws and ordinances from the books and let the world know, honestly, that individual rights simply are not important to Japan. In the mean time, it’s still a nice place to visit, and those foreigners who choose to work there hopefully understand what they’re getting into.