A consumer protection commission was launched last month to investigate consumer complaints about appliances, food and commodities. Unfortunately, the seven-member Consumer Safety Investigation Commission might be a case of too little too late.
Japan’s consumer protection laws have long been on the books and the country’s consumer market may be the envy of the world, but scandalous examples of unsafe, unfair and exploitative consumer practices are too numerous to list in a short editorial.
The commission must be considered a step forward as it was given the power to authorize on-site inspections of producers and to develop preventive measures.
However, consumers deserve better protection, information, policies and a more effective system of reparation when things go wrong. Much work remains to be done for Japan’s consumers to develop further trust.
The first issue might be a better system for gathering information about problems, investigating reports and analyzing the causes of injuries, broken contracts and other problems. Second, more action needs to be taken when problems do arise.
Businesses need to resolve problems not just to save face and protect their own interests, but because the public has a right to safety.
Consumers also have a right to know and to reparation. Punishments, fines and compensation payments must be considered for specific incidents, but should also be part of changing overall business practices. Greater public awareness should also be promoted.
The government should work with independent consumer rights groups to publicize its findings about all dangerous or unfair consumer products or services.
The issue of consumer protection has become increasingly urgent after fears over food safety in the aftermath of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that began on March 11, 2011. That case may be the trigger for more extensive improvements in issues such as mislabeling, tainted processed food, and the distribution system for staples such as rice, beef, chicken, eggs and milk.
Consumer protection is not just about food, though, but also includes credit and loan payments, contracts for services, banking and financial services, and contracts for sales, rental, repair work and insurance. In short, consumer protection should cover nearly every transaction in daily life and every person in society.
Without enforcing regulations, investigating complaints, providing compensation and making overall changes to the consumer system, Japan’s consumers may continue to enjoy a marvelous range of products and services, but never feel entirely confident about their safety.
The consumer commission should be supported and its mandate expanded.
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