The Cabinet Office has made public its 2008 white paper on people’s lifestyles, which features consumer-related issues. This is the 51st such white paper since the then Economic Planning Agency issued the first one in 1956. The latest white paper calls for establishing an effective plan to help consumers who have suffered financial damage due to questionable business methods as well as improving education aimed at enhancing consumer protection. Politicians should realize that they have been too slow in taking concrete steps to protect and expand consumers’ rights.

The white paper says that, in fiscal 2007, consumers lost up to ¥3.392 trillion due to unscrupulous business practices, defective products and false labeling. The value is equivalent to about 0.7 percent of Japan’s GDP. In about 40 percent of the cases of unscrupulous business practices, consumers suffered losses of ¥50,000 or less each. The white paper calls for establishing a plan to financially rescue duped consumers in a collective manner since they tend to refrain from taking legal action or other recourse for fear of the costs involved.

The white paper says the number of central government workers in consumer administration is limited and that people’s trust in them is not high. It shows that 74.7 percent of those polled think that they are not protected by public organizations. It also points out that consumer-related administration in local governments and communities is dwindling and that consumer organizations in Japan lag behind in personnel and finances when compared with those abroad.

The Cabinet Office’s survey in October 2008 shows that 75.5 percent of the public have greater concerns about food safety than they do about other matters. Behind this is the food poisoning caused by contaminated “gyoza” dumplings imported from China, the resale of contaminated rice to makers of edible products and the mislabeling of imported food products as domestic products. The government and the political parties should be ashamed of the fact that they have made no progress toward establishing a Consumer Agency.

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