Retailers are being urged to improve how they handle customer complaints and ensure they sell only approved goods before a consumer protection law is passed.
“If a consumer protection law comes into effect, customers will receive more power while producers and sellers will face strict rules and regulations,” U Soe Moe Thu, general manager of City Mart Holding Company, told the first public seminar organised by the Myanmar Retailers’ Association.
“Retailers will need to be particularly careful because they deal directly with consumers,” he said at the July 28 event.
The first draft of the consumer protection law was completed by the Ministry of Commerce in January 2012. It was submitted to the parliament on July 15, but it is unclear when the bill will be debated. It is possible, however, that it will become law by the end of this year, retailers said.
The bill contains a provision that requires the commerce ministry to help create courts to hear consumer protection-related cases.
U Nay Win Myint, general manager of Gamone Pwint Shopping Mall, said the law will force retailers to be careful about what goods they stock, especially food and medicinal products. “Shops will be required to sell food and medicinal goods that have Food and Drug Administration approval,” he said. “In the past, we could sell any products and nobody would complain. But if a consumer protection law comes into effect, we will have to change our ways.”
The law will not only include rules and regulations, but will also outline punishments that retailers will face, he said.
“Retailers will be fined K300,000 and face a possible three-year jail term for the first offence,” he said. “This increases to K500,000 and five years in jail for subsequent offences, which means that old policies, such as refusing to exchange items, will no longer be acceptable.
“If we make even a small mistake, customers will have the power to complain and take us to court,” he said.
U Soe Moe Thu added that he believes the law should also incorporate some protection for retailers as well.
“Consumers protection laws are in place in developed countries and our country should have this too. But the law should not only offer rights to customers, but list their responsibilities as well. Retailers and shopkeeper also need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities,” he said.
U Nay Win Myint said the draft law has already been finalised and submitted to the hluttaws.
U Ba Okkhaing, chairman of the Consumer Protection Association, said honest retailers would benefit from the proposed law.
“Retailers and producers are consumers too – and if they are honest they will benefit from this law,” he said.
A retailer from Insein township, who did not want to be named, she if the proposed law was passed small retailers would be powerless.
“Sometimes we face unsatisfied and complaining customers. If this law comes into being, we won’t have any protection but will have to defend ourselves in court,” she said. “We don’t want to go there.”