Each of us, i.e. 183 million people living in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), is a consumer. We daily face the need to choose high-quality and safe goods or services in line with our expectations. When choosing any good or ordering any service, each of us hopes to spend money with maximum benefit. In this regard, we hope to receive complete and accurate information to make sure that the cost of the goods or services matches their quality.
When shopping daily, we never think about the fact that consumer choice is the main driver of economic and innovative development. Due consideration of consumer interests and respect of consumer rights is the key factor of social and economic development of the Eurasian Economic Union as a whole and each EAEU Member State (hereinafter, Member States).
• protect consumers against unfair business activities;
• ensure that consumer choice is informed and based on clear, accurate, and complete information (e.g. for online purchases);
• ensure equal consumer protection in the territory of each Member State and provide consumers with access to quick and efficient mechanisms for settlement of disputes with entrepreneurs and ensure their respect for the consumer rights;
• ensure educating and information sharing with consumers;
• make consumers the focus of ongoing economic transformations in the EAEU.
The EAEU agreed policy in the field of consumer protection guarantees consumer rights and their protection throughout the Eurasian Economic Union.
• information sharing – exchange of timely and reliable information on goods, services, manufacturers, and sellers;
• development and adoption of agreed measures aimed at combating unfair practices and preventing the circulation of dangerous products;
• creating conditions for the free choice of goods (services), including through improving their quality and competitiveness;
• developing consumer awareness and education both among citizens themselves and businesses.
For the purposes of information sharing with consumers about measures adopted by the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) and the Member States to implement the agreed policy in the field of consumer protection, the information section "Consumer Protection" has been created on the portal of common information resources and open data of the EAEU https://potrebitel.eaeunion.org.
The introduction of the EAEU common information source offers consumers the possibility to receive complete and reliable information on their rights and the ways to protect them, as well as on state authorities and organizations engaged in consumer protection.
- The EEC develops recommendations for the Member States (e.g. Recommendation No. 27 of the EEC's Board "On General Approaches to Implementing the Agreed Policy in the Field of Consumer Protection by the Member States of the Eurasian Economic Union for Distance Selling of Goods (Works, Services)" dated November 21, 2017; Recommendation No. 15 of the EEC's Board 'On Common Approaches to Establishing Special Measures to Protect Rights and Interests of Individual Consumer Categories' dated May 21, 2019, etc.).
- The Member States harmonize national legislation based on the EEC's recommendations, establish similar national regulation, implement the agreed policy of the EAEU, and supervise consumer rights protection legislation enforcement.
- Consumer organizations represent consumers at the EAEU (in the Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection) and on a national level.
For the purposes of consultations on implementing the agreed policy in the field of Consumer Protection, the EEC has created a negotiation platform – the Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection that brings together the duty bearers, civil society consumer organizations, and business communities of the Member States. Representatives of Observer States at the EAEU also participate in the Advisory Committee's work.
The Advisory Committee is the Commission's working body where the EAEU Member States jointly create common rules for protecting consumer interests.
What the EEC does to protect consumers in online trade
According to experts, over the past five years, the number of online stores operating in the EAEU has more than tripled.
About 80 percent of all purchases made by citizens on the Internet are non-food products (household appliances, auto parts and electronics, household goods, furniture, perfumery and cosmetics, clothing).
Typical consumer violations in e-commerce include:
• lack of information about the seller (manufacturer, importer);
• lack of information or presence of inaccurate information about a product or a service;
• violation of the terms of delivery of goods;
• change in the price of the goods (e.g. the goods on the website are offered at one price, but when placing an order the price of the goods changes);
• evasion from termination of the contract and return of money paid for the goods.
Experts from five EAEU countries identified the main factors affecting the level of consumer protection in online trade:
• risks associated with the possibility of selling dangerous goods (services);
• risks associated with the identification of the seller (contractor),
• lack of uniform rules for concluding electronic contracts,
• the possibility of selling "prohibited" goods via the Internet,
• protection of personal information.
Mentioned risks were taken into account while developing the Recommendation of the EEC's Board dated November 21, 2017 No. 27 "On General Approaches to Implementing the Agreed Policy in the Field of Consumer Protection by the Member States of the Eurasian Economic Union for Distance Selling of Goods (Works, Services)", which was the basis for improvement of national legislation in this area.
Thus, taking into account this Recommendation, in 2018 there were significant changes in the legislation of the Member States aimed at protecting the consumer in online commerce, namely:
- in the Republic of Belarus - there were established clear requirements for information which is to be posted in the online store and to the procedure for its posting;
- in the Russian Federation - an attempt was made to resolve the problem with identifying the seller on the Internet (since January 2019, the information aggregator is responsible to the consumer);
- in the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic, work is underway to create a legal framework for regulating the activities of Internet trade platforms.
Taking into account the interests of consumers, creating the necessary information space, where the consumer has access to the necessary information, including about his rights and what benefits he can derive from being an active participant in the single market is the most important task for the further development of integration processes within the EAEU.
The most important task for the EAEU is to maximize the attraction of all categories of consumers to the benefits of the single market of the EAEU countries.
In this regard a special place is occupied by the so-called vulnerable categories of consumers.
The level of risk for the consumer directly depends on the factors influencing his behavior: the uncertainty of the terms of the deal, the insufficiency of information and knowledge the consumer has, the adequacy of the assessment of the situation and possible detriment for the consumer himself.
Certain categories of citizens, in view of their age (e.g. elderly, minors), or physical characteristics (disabled), become victims of mala fide entrepreneurs.
Selling expensive substances that supposedly have properties of rejuvenation or health improvement, imposing loans for the purchase of such completely inoperative drugs, or equipment, or services - this is a reality faced by elderly people.
Enticement of minors, especially through online games and services, to purchase digital content, or presenting to children so-called «free content» loaded with provocative advertisements, sometimes completely of "not childish" content, the problem of children using smart devices with the ability to transmit information (including the third party) about the location of the child, about his surroundings etc. - this is the reality that our children face.
People with disabilities face not only the problem of physical accessibility of retail outlets, but also with obtaining information about goods, services, and the possibility of protecting their rights.
According to statistics from the World Health Organization, more than one billion people have some form of disability. This corresponds to approximately 15% of the world's population (110 to 190 million adults).
A consumer who is in a high-risk zone of vulnerability will never be able to become an active participant in economic relations related to the development of production.
The lack of attention to the problems of vulnerable categories of consumers has become apparent in recent years, especially in the context of globalization and the ever-increasing need to establishing similar international legal regulation and creating special mechanisms for protecting consumer rights in relation to various groups of the population.
In this regard, the EEC adopted the Recommendation of the Board of the EEC dated May 21, 2019 No. 15 "On General approaches to the establishment of special measures to protect the rights and interests of certain categories of consumers", in accordance with which:
- the EAEU member states are recommended to apply a common agreed policy in the field of determining special measures to protect the rights and interests of disabled people, minors, elderly people;
- the legislation of the EAEU member states may provide, in particular, the following special measures:
• providing the opportunity for certain categories of consumers (for example, people with disabilities with hearing and (or) vision impairments) to obtain information about goods (works, services) in a form accessible to them and free of charge;
• the establishment of special measures of responsibility of sellers (contractors) for: misleading certain categories of consumers about consumer properties, quality, availability and (or) profitability of the price of goods (works, services), the terms of the contract with the consumer, etc.;
• refusal to certain categories of consumers in access to goods (works, services) for reasons of their state of health, limitation of life activity, age (if such a limitation is not established by the legislation of the Member States);
• the use of effective mechanisms for resolving consumer disputes that are available to certain categories of consumers, including by introducing alternative methods of resolving disputes, reducing the economic costs of reimbursing consumer detriment;
• development and implementation of educational programs in the field of consumer protection and awareness of citizens, taking into account the peculiarities of the perception of information by certain categories of consumers;
• development of recommendations on preventing unfair business practices of business entities and on stimulating socially responsible business, taking into account the peculiarities of interaction with certain categories of consumers.
In order to timely update the measures taken at the state level aimed at protecting the rights and interests of certain categories of consumers, the Member States are encouraged to analyze the social and consumer behavior of the population on an ongoing basis in order to identify the conditions for classifying certain groups of the population or citizens as persons subjected to increased consumer risk.
Responsible body for the implementation of the powers in the field of consumer protection within the Eurasian Economic Commission is the Consumer Protection unit of the Department for Sanitary, Phytosanitary and Veterinary Measures.
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