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Consumer woes? Asean promises to entertain your complaints

Asean has released an Asean consumer complaints leaflet, but will the region go beyond lip service?

Dial help. Consumer hotline in all Asean countries.

MANILA, Philippines – It would take less than an hour’s search on the web to see a sea of complaints on products bought in Southeast Asia. Online forums show angry, sometimes frustrated accounts from consumers who didn’t get their end of the bargain when they purchased a certain product in the region.

The concerns ranged from waffles that tasted like chemicals to a plate of corned beef that had… a fly on it.

Consumer complaints are sometimes not acted upon, but guess who’s saying this should stop? The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The Asean Committee on Consumer Protection (ACCP) released an Asean consumer complaints leaflet on April 3, which listed the contact information of all government bodies that handle consumer complaints in Asean’s 10 member-countries – the Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore.

In the Philippines, consumers could get in touch with the Bureau of Trade Regulation and Consumer Protection at (02) 751-33-30. The consumer’s concerns could be resolved through mediation and if necessary, arbitration. 

asean consumer protection

The leaflet has a cheery slogan – “Wherever you are in Asean, be a happy consumer!”

This message was shaped by lofty goals of economic integration.

The Asean envisions itself as an economic community by 2015 – with a single market and production base. This is one of the 3 pillars of the Asean community, along with having an Asean political security community (with emphasis on being rules-based) and a socio-cultural community (which focuses on human development and social welfare). 

The 3 pillars share a common thread: that the region should be people-oriented. And this is where consumer protection comes in.

When Asean adopted an economic blueprint in 2007, consumer protection was listed along with the protection of intellectual property rights. Asean aimed to send the message that real economic development includes producers and consumers as well.

But when Asean made consumer protection a priority, it sent this message not only to its 600 million people but also to the broader international community.

“The information in the leaflet will be useful not only for Asean consumers but also for tourists who visit the AMSs [Asean member states]. With such information, it will therefore enhance consumer confidence while dealing with businesses in the Asean market,” said Mahani Tan Abdullah, ACCP chairperson.

Asean’s number of international visitors is on the rise, hitting 65 million in 2010 (the latest figure), an increase of 12% from 2009, according to the Asean secretariat.

The production of the leaflets is just one step, however.

The ACCP plans to develop a notification and information-exchange mechanism to alert consumers on the recall of unsafe products across the region. ACCP has also launched a consumer redress website, though the site has yet to be updated.

Aside from this, Asean has a bigger responsibility to fulfill, and that is to pass laws on consumer protection.

According to ACCP, only Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have consumer protection laws. –



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