Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Consumer group won't play politics

As one of the nation's most active NGOs, the Consumers' Foundation has raised awareness as well as aroused controversy. Its secretary general, Cheng Jen-hung, talked with `Taipei Times' reporter Jackie Lin last week about the group's mission

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Consumers' Foundation Secretary General Cheng Jen-hung says his organization's only legacy is its credibility, because it has no direct political power.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: Many media reports have said the Consumers' Foundation added a new achievement to its list when Nike Taiwan's high-ranking officials finally apologized to the public over its mishandling of Michael Jordan's brief stage appearance in late May. Do you think it indicates that consumers have fought a good fight to uphold their interests?

Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏): I wouldn't say this marks a victory for Taiwan's consumer movement. There is still a long way to go to raise consumer awareness and educate businesses to respect consumers' rights and interests.

When the foundation was established in 1980, it had only a desk, a telephone and a volunteer lawyer, Lee Shen-yi (李伸一), who is now a Control Yuan member. Throughout the past 24 years, we have presented many consumer-related issues and programs.

Take the Nike incident for example. Many people filed complaints with us. But the local company of the US sportswear maker adopted a tough attitude and refused to admit its mistakes. It just tossed out a small candy [posters featuring Jordan as compensation], thinking that it had shown sincerity.

When the Cabinet-level Consumer Protection Commission intervened in the negotiations, it announced a new compensation scheme on behalf of the company, to give out Air Jordan 1 Retro Low shoes to the 700 fans. The commission thought it helped consumers garner the most benefit, but actually it does not really understand what consumers want.

Therefore, the foundation once again presented its demands and issued an ultimatum, ie product boycotts. Before the boycott plan was set to start, the company's chief apologized under the pressure of consolidated consumer force.

To continue to educate the public is one major direction we are working on. United force can be translated into pressure against unlawful companies.

TT: Since the company offered apologies and agreed product refunds without condition on May 28, each of Nike's 30 outlets nationwide has only had a single-digit number of cases who returned goods when more than 1,000 Jordan fans are qualified to do so. What's the problem here?

Cheng: This implies two things. Some felt embarrassed to return the products they had used, although the company said there is no ceiling. Also their feelings have been assuaged after the company admitted its mistakes. For some, whether they could return the products, or not, was not the point.

The second thing is public education is required so that they know better how to protect their own interests. Some consumers could not make the refunds because they failed to keep the receipts that proved their purchase.

TT: As shown by recent consumer issues, a huge gap exists in the demands and decisions made by the Consumers' Foundation and the Consumer Protection Commission. Sometimes we even feel that these two organizations have conflicting ideas.

For example, when the foundation asked for, say, an apology and NT$100,000 each in compensations to consumers, the commission allowed the companies to bargain and offered merely NT$20,000. What's your opinion?

Cheng: Protecting consumers' rights and interests is the top goal for these two organizations.

Although the Consumer Protection Commission was also set up for the same goal, it nevertheless takes into consideration the positions of business operators. Even worse, it ends up becoming the mouthpiece and copy machine of the companies. Its role is confusing.

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