Globally for consumers’ benefit - UOKiK’s Presidency of ICPEN

Globally for consumers’ benefit - UOKiK’s Presidency of ICPEN

  • The international debate on effective protection of consumer rights is already beginning.
  • We are meeting representatives from more than 70 countries who are attending UOKiK’s conference in Gdańsk on 7-10 May.
  • The event is part of the Polish presidency of ICPEN, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.

[Warsaw, 7 May 2024] In today’s rapidly changing world, where the pace is set by successive digital innovations, consumer protection authorities must act quickly, efficiently and consistently. International cooperation and sharing of experiences are essential. This is what the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network - ICPEN, which brings together representatives from more than 70 countries, does. Since 1 July 2023, their joint activities have been led, under the annual presidency, by UOKiK. Representatives of the countries involved will summarise the achievements and present the conclusions of the working groups at a conference that will last until 10 May in Gdańsk. The event provides a platform for discussion, exchange of practices and inspiration. The slogan is “Empowering responsible consumer choices”.

- Consumer decisions drive economies, inspiring innovation and business investment. Laws and tools of consumer protection institutions must be adapted to modern challenges to ensure the safety of key market participants. The Polish presidency of ICPEN has set priorities and work directions to ensure that consumers can make informed and sustainable choices. The ones that they will be able to undertake autonomously and in safe conditions - says the President of UOKiK, Tomasz Chróstny.

First choice - attentiveness

Being attentive to what businesses offer and how they offer it is the best buying strategy. Behaviours such as reading labels, verifying the unit price of a product, or at least making a shopping list, foster a higher awareness of the practice of downsizing. These are the conclusions of the social survey “Downsizing in the Assessment of Polish Consumers” which was conducted by UOKiK as part of its activities in the ICPEN network.

More than half of the respondents - 66 percent - have observed a reduction in the weight or volume of the products they buy, with an even higher percentage - 79 percent - admitting that they have heard of it. In the opinion of the vast majority of respondents, such a practice violates consumers’ right to accurate information and is misleading. 91 percent of respondents agree that top-down measures should be introduced to protect consumer rights. To counteract downsizing, or shrinkflation, regulations can help, but education is also essential.

Consumers with their choices can show that they do not support companies and brands that with their business strategies violate the interests of consumers, depriving them of their right to full and reliable information. Respondents who are particularly aware of the practice of downsizing are those aged 40-59, living in large cities with more than 200,000 residents, with a high school or university education.

Second - understanding

To make responsible choices, consumers need to understand what they are agreeing to, what product they are buying, and what they need to watch out for. During the conference, one of the discussions will focus on the vulnerable consumer - in need of special protection. In today’s already highly digitally advanced reality, this definition applies to most of us - we are all exposed to digital pitfalls. The technological leap, followed by the number of services offered online, makes it necessary for every consumer to have a basic knowledge of how to use modern tools safely.

These issues in terms of consumer protection in financial services offered over the Internet are being explored as part of the ICPEN project “Consumer protection on the Internet - Finance of the future: services and scams” chaired by UOKiK. The idea is to examine the e-market for new financial services and the emerging risks in it, including unfair practices at the borderline between legal and illegal offers and incentives. Their types, functionalities and numbers are very large, and they are complicated and opaque, making it often difficult for consumers to determine the line between what is a legitimate offer and what is a fraud or scam. Global access to a variety of digital services or the ability to make quick payments on the one hand - are beneficial, on the other - expose consumers to global risks.

The Polish Authority is also the initiator and leader of the “Online marketing” project which addresses issues related to digital marketing - including reviews, dark patterns, influencer marketing. One of the outputs of the international working group will be a guide to online reviews as a tool for influencing consumer decisions. The document will provide guidance for consumers who read and post reviews - including what information users should receive regarding the rules for adding and moderating reviews on a review site. Recipients of the guide will learn what can indicate that opinions are false and what rules to follow when adding their own reviews.

Third - responsibility

Among a number of factors that influence consumer choices, environmental and ethical issues are among the most important. The consumer, guided by the welfare of the environment when making purchasing decisions, must not be misled. ICPEN has been working for several years to effectively protect consumers from greenwashing. The phenomenon of businesses creating misleading, unclear or false messages indicating an environmentally sustainable approach to the products and services they offer is a real problem. This issue requires a response and initiatives from consumer protection institutions to warn buyers against false sustainability claims and to enable enforcement in this regard.

Finally - effective action

The new challenges require new insights into the effectiveness of consumer bodies. During the Gdańsk conference, high-level representatives - including the heads of consumer protection institutions - will have the opportunity to exchange experiences and discuss solutions used by various bodies to improve global consumer protection.

- Under the Polish presidency, we are working on further ways to increase the effectiveness of our actions and expand cooperation for consumer protection. What matters is how authorities that protect consumers on a daily basis can strengthen ICPEN’s capacity and how the network can contribute to their effectiveness. The final beneficiary is the consumer - says the President of UOKiK, Tomasz Chróstny.

Together for the benefit of consumers

UOKiK has been a member of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network since 1996. It chairs its work for the second time (the first time in 2006-2007). The Authority is working hard during its presidency to increase the visibility and effectiveness of ICPEN’s activities. During the Polish chairmanship, consumer protection institutions from Armenia, Croatia, Georgia and Romania joined the network, and the World Bank expanded its observers which so far included the following: the European Commission, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Through the exchange of experience and joint initiatives of international partners, ICPEN continues to expand its array of tools for consumer protection.

The next country to take over the network’s presidency will be the United States.

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