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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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Consumer protection

In today’s globalising world, effective consumer protection has to go beyond national borders. The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection is very active in its international efforts, cooperating with individual agencies as well as within international forums.

What benefits does this cooperation bring?

  • more information on solutions to different problems – we can learn from each other’s experiences
  • learning about new threats and the possibility to prevent them early on in their development in Poland
  • the possibility to work together on international projects giving our actions a cross-border dimension for the benefit of consumers
  • direct working contacts – possibility to consult experts from different countries on everyday basis.

Here are some highlights of our international activity:

 

International events

Each year the Office hosts a number of international study visits and larger-scale events gathering governments officials, academics, legal professionals and consumer experts from Poland and abroad. These conferences and seminars focus on the latest developments and the most important current topics in consumer protection. Similarly, the Office’s staff participate in meetings and conferences held in different countries, presenting our experiences and taking stance in important debates on international forums.

 

Investigation assistance within the EU

Being a member of the EU, the Office takes part in the works of the EU Council and its working groups where e.g. proposed directives, regulations are discussed.

What is more, since 2006 the national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws in the European Union have been cooperating with each other and with the Commission more closely to make sure that consumer laws are respected, the internal market functions undisturbed and consumers' economic interests are well-protected. They exchange information (also using as specially-devised secure IT-tool) and work together to stop unlawful practices concerning misleading advertising, package holidays, timeshares and distance selling. The cooperation’s framework is Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC). The Office is the single liaison office responsible for coordinating the cooperation in Poland.

 

EU Sweeps

Since 2007 the consumer protection authorities from the EU have been running a joint EU investigation and enforcement action to check if consumer laws are respected in a particular market. Based on the findings, the authorities contact the incompliant companies and demand that they comply with the relevant requirements. If they fail, they can face legal action.

The 2009 EU Sweep focused on misleading advertising and unfair practices on websites selling consumer electronic goods, which are among the most popular product categories bought on-line. Apart from Poland, 25 other EU member states (all except Slovakia) plus Norway and Iceland took part in the exercise. They investigated 369 websites selling digital cameras, mobile phones, personal music players, DVD players, computer equipment and game consoles. The project resulted in creation of good and bad webpage selling electronic goods samples at http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/enforcement/sweep/electronic_goods/index_en.htm

In previous years European Union investigated ticket selling websites and webpages offering mobile phone services.

 

Air passengers rights

In 2008-2009, under the Consumer Protection and Cooperation, 11 European countries participated in a common activity looking at the taxes, fees and charges that airlines were charging their passengers. The investigations involved 281 flights, 34 airports and 24 airlines. The report completed as a result of the exercise is a starting point for increased consumer protection cooperation across Europe, clearer guidelines for airlines on how to present air fares to consumers and, most importantly, more transparent transactions for consumers purchasing flights.

 

Safer playgrounds

Recognising the risks involved in unsafe playgrounds for children, eight countries: Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland, carried out in 2008 a complex surveillance project covering 16 thousand site of this type. The action lasted for a year and was co-financed by the European Commission.

As the project initiator, Poland inspected the largest number of sites, i.e. over 13 thousand. Irregularities were found at only 14% of them. In Bulgaria, out of 5816 playground devices checked, 4000 were incompliant with relevant requirements. In Estonia on average every fifth playground inspected did not meet safety requirements and in Slovakia irregularities were found at 60% of playgrounds.

Additionally, the project participants prepared a guide for playground administrators and owners, who are responsible for playgrounds’ condition.

For more information visit: www.playgrounds.uokik.gov.pl

 

ICPEN

The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) is an organisation consisting of consumer protection authorities from over 40 countries. The aim of the Network is to share information about cross-border commercial activities that may affect consumer interests, and to encourage international cooperation among law enforcement agencies.

As ICPEN member, the Office participates in plenary conferences and Best Practices Trainings. The Office also takes part in other ICPEN activities: the Internet Sweeps, which is a yearly global Web-surfing exercise aimed to search for sites that may be deceiving and/or defrauding consumers, Fraud Prevention Month – an annual global consumer education effort, and monthly global teleconferences held to discuss topics of current relevance in the world of consumer protection and to review the progress of ICPEN’s current activities. Poland was also the leader of the Communications Working Group which developed and manages ICPEN’s new website (www.icpen.org). As part of a joint project implemented under the auspices of ICPEN, Polish consumers can also submit their cross-border complaints (in Polish) via the www.econsumer.gov.

 

ICPEN Sweeps

Each year ICPEN holds a sweep as part of which ICPEN members surf the Internet to find potentially fraudulent or deceptive sites and draw consumers' attention to dishonest practices of traders on the Web. In 2007 the campaign’s theme was “Who can you trust? Targeting testimonials, guarantees and endorsements” and in Poland we focused on cosmetics and related advertisements. In turn in 2008 the general theme was “The Message: True or False?” and the Office together with the Ministry of Infrastructure investigated around 200 websites with pop-up advertisements. In 2010 the Sweep theme was "The Online Generation - targeting online marketing and advertising to youth".

After the Sweep is finished, owners of the websites flagged as potentially unlawful are sent letters with a request to modify their web pages’ content. If they fail to do that, they may face formal legal proceedings.

 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) associates 30 highly-developed and democratic countries, and its objective is to support activities aimed at achieving the highest possible level of economic development and the inhabitants’ standard of living.

The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection participates in the Committee on Consumer Policy (CCP). It associates consumer protection policy authorities of the member states and experts from social organisations as well as entrepreneurs.

The works of the Committee focus on the promotion of co-operation among the OECD member states and the implementation of legal recommendations in consumer protection. Some of the Committee’s work products are guidelines on online identity theft, mobile commerce or protecting consumers from fraudulent and deceptive commercial practices across borders. The CCP also prepares implementation reports, research and analyses to foster better understanding of the mechanics of present-day economy and work out best solutions for policy-makers. Click here to access CCP’s documents and learn more about its activities.

 

Bilateral cooperation

Within the framework of bilateral cooperation, the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection undertakes exchange of information and experience with foreign institution dealing with competition and consumer protection. The basis of bilateral cooperation constitutes among other things cooperation agreements, which were signed with the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation, the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine and the General Inspectorate for Consumer Protection of Hungary.

During 2005-2009 the Office implemented three twinning projects: two with Germany in the field of competition protection and one with the UK and Denmark in the field of consumer protection. Both projects were financed with EU funds (Transition Facility).

The German twinning included training sessions and consultations for the staff of the OCCP and other public agencies and institutions on competition law, state aid and sector regulation (mainly concerning the development of competition in the telecoms market, the energy sector and railway transportation). Moreover, in order to raise the awareness as regards EC competition law, several international conferences were organised aimed at entrepreneurs and representatives of the media and the academic circles.

The twinning with the UK and Denmark included training sessions for the staff of the OCCP, the Trade Inspection, consumer organisations, alternative dispute resolution institutions and local consumer ombudsmen. They were devoted to consumer protection regulations, general product safety and market surveillance. An international conference was also held to discuss protecting consumers in modern economy.

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