Food safety – number one consumer complaint

13:17 | 18/03/2015 Economy- Society

A report by the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment made public at a recent consumer rights conference in Hanoi found that the number one customer complaint is still food safety.

Food safety – number one consumer complaint

Speakers at the conference said that despite the relatively high public profile of opinions and legislative action on the issue, there is a startling lack of understanding by shoppers about their rights and responsibilities.

The results of a sample of 1,200 adults who completed an online consumer rights questionnaire investigating attitude, knowledge and critical thinking ability of Vietnamese buyers showed that overall 90% of the group were not confident they knew enough about their rights and legislation.

The survey did find however, that most people pay attention to basic information, such as production date, price, trade mark and origin and that they most often chose products, based on the opinion of their relatives or friends.

Speakers at the conference said the levels of knowledge leave adults vulnerable to exploitation in the marketplace but that is not surprising as consumer education in Vietnam is still in the early stages of development and should be seen in the context of the rapidly changing society and the increasing influence of the marketplace.

Food safety remains the number one issue of consumers as the country has been gaining a national reputation for businesses selling rotten meat treated with chemicals to make it appear fresh or using chemicals to keep fruits and vegetables fresh, they said.

Shoppers also have a high level of concern over inadequate or the lack of disclosure of the origins of fresh the fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets and other retail establishments throughout the country.

Unhealthy food has been flooding the market, but, most consumers don’t know how to go about filing complaints said Vuong Nghia Dan from the Hai Ba Trung precinct of Hanoi.

Only 2 to 3% of consumers have filed complaints when their rights were violated she said adding that even those who understood the process failed to do so because of concern about the cost and time involved.

Nguyen Manh Hung, vice chairman and general secretary of the Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (VINASTAS) in turn said customers should form alliances with each other to enforce their rights.

In reality, boycotting restaurants or supermarkets selling poor-quality products has a stronger effect than punishments, Hung said.

He added that around 1,550 complaints were filed last year with VINASTAS, which is undoubtedly much lower than the actual number of complaints and that the association has an 80% success rate of resolving disputes favourably.

Hung suggested that the government educate consumers by better utilising the existing complaint mechanism to get the word out to consumers on the specifics of their rights and responsibilities.

Additionally, the administrative procedures involved in lodging complaints should be streamlined.

Customers are often much too passive in their response to violations. Consumers should seek out organisations to assist them in enforcing their rights and resolve consumer violation matters, he added.

To help consumers raise their voice, the Vietnam Competition Authority (VCA) under the Ministry of Industry and Trade has set up a free online consultancy hotline at 1800 6838.

Consumers can get expert support for their complaints about goods and services.

Other experts have proposed that there should be stricter fines for inpiduals and organisations which violate consumers’ rights and improvements in the Law on Protection of Consumers' Rights should be made.

Although the law was issued in 2011 there has still been no specific guidance for giving effect to  of some parts of the law, said Trinh Anh Tuan, VCA deputy head.

A number of measures will be undertaken to improve law enforcement and to promulgate the law to help consumers understand their rights and duties in coming time, Tuan revealed.