Members of the Oxford University One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme delivered invited talks at the United Nations between 9 and 13 July at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The annual week-long United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) events of 2018 comprised of the following Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) and Research Partnership Platform (RPP) Meetings: the 3rd Session of IGE Meeting on Consumer Protection, Law and Policy; the 9th Meeting of the RPP; and the 17th IGE Meeting on Competition Law and Policy.
The delegation, led by Dr Ying Yu, Deputy Director of the OBOR programme and Research Fellow in Law, Justice and Society at Wolfson College, presented their research on the current trends and issues in the areas of consumer protection and competition law. Dr Yu examined the role of dispute resolution in the protection of consumer rights and highlighted the reasons why it is important for various forms of justice to be available to, and accessible by, consumers. She shared her views on what makes access to justice difficult for consumers, and what makes best practice for consumer redress.
On the challenges for access to justice, Dr Yu said:
The reality is, the more complicated the procedure is, the less consumers approach it. The consequence is that the current formal judicial scheme which is litigation centred is pushing consumer away further and further.
Following this, she commented on the best practice for consumer redress with regards to internal ADR or ODR schemes assisted by payment intermediaries:
For the consumer, it is the best approach to empower them, to grant the consumer a weapon to defend herself. For the government, the cost to regulate is minimum. This type of dispute resolution scheme can effectively allow government to use limited public resource only to supervise the few payment intermediaries, and free the courts from the burden of having to deal with a huge amount of relatively simple cases and to concentrate instead only on the complicated ones.
Adviser of the main OBOR programme, Professor Dato’ Dr Sothi Rachagan, delivered the keynote during the opening plenary titled, ‘Contribution of Consumer protection to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).' In his speech, Dr Rachagan drew parallels between UN’s SDG 16 and the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection. He called attention to the importance of “leaving no consumer behind” by addressing civil justice, consumer needs and quality control of consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms.
Professor Thierry Bourgoignie and Mr Robin Simpson, Advisers of the OBOR Consumer Rights Beyond Boundaries programme and UNCTAD Consultants, delivered talks during the roundtable discussions on consumer protection and the voluntary peer review of the consumer protection law and policy of Morocco. Professor Bourgoignie discussed cooperative efforts between São Tomé and Príncipe, Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) members, in order to better protect consumers in accordance with their culture.
Mr Simpson noted that despite Morocco’s outstanding efforts to establish effective consumer protection mechanisms, there is still room for improvement for issues related to enforcement, institutional challenges, mediation systems and administrative sanctions.
As part of the OBOR Consumer Rights Beyond Boundaries programme and the OBOR Digital Economy & Society programme, Dr Janet Hui Xue of the University of Sydney and Dr Alex Chung of University College London’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy presented preliminary findings from their comparative analysis of the legal and regulatory challenges of the sharing economy.
They contrasted the legal issues and regulatory landscapes of the transportation sector of the sharing economy, using case studies of Uber in the UK and Didi in China. Their talks focused on the areas of consumer law, data protection law, competition law, and labour law. The research will form the basis for a new OBOR ‘Sharing Economy’ research project which will sit within the existing Consumer Rights Beyond Boundaries programme. This research will be undertaken in collaboration with the UNCTAD RPP; the project will soon be featured on both OBOR and UNCTAD official websites.
The presentation slides for Dr Xue's and Dr Chung's talks will also be available shortly on the UNCTAD website. The above research presented at the UN will be published in the coming months as a policy brief by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society, and as an edited book volume.
Special thanks go to UNCTAD for organising the events: Ms Teresa Moreira, Head of Competition and Consumer Policies Branch (CCPB); Ebru Gökçe, Legal Officer, CCPB; and Arnau Izaguerri Vila, Associate Legal Officer, CCPB.