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Update Online Consumer Protection Laws

Update Online Consumer Protection Laws_1
By Sunny Lewis

 PARIS, France, June 2, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – OECD Countries should modernize their consumer protection laws to address new risks posed by online commerce, including “free” apps and peer-to-peer Internet transactions, according to new OECD guidelines for member countries and emerging economies in a new Recommendation. While not legally binding, it puts peer pressure on countries to conform.

Entitled, “Recommendation of the Council on Consumer Protection in E-commerce,” the guidelines cover business-to-consumer e-commerce. And they address issues arising from the relationship between consumers and the Internet platforms that enable consumer-to-consumer transactions.

Consumers have been playing a more active role, and an economy of sharing has emerged, the OECD acknowledges. Yet business to consumer e-commerce has not reached its full potential, still representing a relatively small share of overall retail sales.

“Well-tailored consumer protections can encourage e-commerce and provide the opportunity for the online marketplace, including the sharing economy, to prosper,” says the OECD, a unique forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other and with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides a setting where governments can compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practice and coordinate domestic and international policies.

Today, OECD member countries account for 63 percent of world GDP, three-quarters of world trade, 95 percent of world official development assistance, over half of the world’s energy consumption, and 18 percent of the world’s population.

The OECD Recommendation on Consumer Protection in E-Commerce says people buying online are entitled to the same level of protection as with conventional transactions.

It calls on governments to work with business and consumer groups to determine legal changes that could improve consumer trust in e-commerce.

On June 21-23, government ministers and other stakeholders will gather at the Moon Palace Hotel in Cancún, Mexico to do just that.

The OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy, titled “Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity,” is intended to move the digital agenda forward in four policy areas that are key to the growth of the digital economy.

Internet openness is high on policy agendas; digital trust needs to be strengthened; global connectivity is reaching an unprecedented scale, while jobs and skills are being radically transformed.

The conference will be chaired by Mexico’s Minister of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal.

 One of the panels – on the connections between consumer trust and market growth – will feature Gerd Billen, state secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection; Welmer Ramos, Costa Rica’s Minister of Economy, Industry and Commerce; and Chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Edith Ramirez.

 This panel will explore the link between consumer trust and market growth, discussing how consumer policy can encourage e-commerce within and across borders. It will consider ways to promote the revised OECD 1999 E-commerce Recommendation and steps to encourage its implementation. It will also address a set of challenging consumer issues raised by emerging business models associated with the sharing economy.

New developments in e-commerce that are addressed by the Recommendation include:

  • Non-monetary transactions. Consumers increasingly acquire “free” goods and services in exchange for their personal data and these transactions are now explicitly included in the scope of the Recommendation. Governments and stakeholders are asked to consider ways to provide redress to consumers who have problem with such transactions.
  • Digital content products. Transactions involving digital content often come with technical or contractual access or usage limitations and many consumers have difficulty understanding their rights and obligations. New language has been added to clarify that consumers should be provided with clear information about such limitations, as well as on functionality and interoperability.
  • Active consumers. Current e-commerce business models increasingly blur the boundaries between consumers and businesses, with consumers playing a participatory role in product promotion and development, and entering into transactions with other consumers. As a result, the OECD has broadened the scope of its Recommendation, and it now encompasses business activities that facilitate consumer-to-consumer transactions. A new provision is added to ensure that consumer endorsements are truthful and transparent.
  • Mobile devices. The growing use of mobile devices for e-commerce brings a number of technical challenges to making information disclosures effective on small screens and can constrain record keeping by consumers. Two new provisions are included to highlight the need to account for the technological limitations or special characteristics of the device used.
  • Privacy and security risks. Consumer data is at the core of many e-commerce services and elevates privacy and security risks. The Recommendation recalls the need to address these risks consistent with other OECD instruments and includes two new provisions highlighting specific protections of particular importance for B2C e-commerce.
  • Payment protection. Recognizing that the level of payment protection can vary depending on the type of payment mechanism used, the Recommendation calls on governments and stakeholders to work together to develop minimum levels of consumer protection across payment mechanisms.
  • Product safety. In a number of countries, a range of unsafe products, which have been prohibited from sale or recalled from the offline retail market, are available in e-commerce. A new provision is added to the Recommendation to ensure that unsafe products are not offered to consumers online, and that businesses cooperate with the relevant authorities to address the problem.

In its Recommendation, the OECD suggests consumer protection laws should cover online apps and services offered for free in exchange for gaining access to the user’s personal data.

While many consumers are drawn to the convenience and choice of online commerce, many others remain wary due to concerns about privacy, payment security or legal recourse in case of a problem.

Other concerns include online product safety risks and doubts over whether consumer reviews are genuine.

While 75 percent of potential consumers in OECD countries access the Internet each day, a recent OECD report finds that just half of them made an online purchase in 2014. Those who did not buy cited security and privacy concerns as the main reasons holding them back.

In view of these facts, the OECD recommends that online businesses not misrepresent or hide terms and conditions likely to affect a decision to buy or try to conceal their identity or location.

Nor should they engage in deceptive practices related to the collection or use of personal data. They should take special care in marketing targeted at children or other vulnerable consumers, the OECD advises.

Provisions should be made to ensure consumers understand the terms and conditions relating to the acquisition and use of digital content like online music and movies – the fastest growing e-commerce category and often sold with legal or technical usage limitations.

Finally, the OECD recommends that consumers should also have access to easy-to-use mechanisms to resolve domestic and cross-border e-commerce disputes in a timely manner.


Green Economies Arising Across Europe

GermanyWindfarm By Sunny Lewis

HELSINKI, Finland, February 4, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – A broad political will and the involvement of many different economic and social actors are essential for successful transition to a green economy, conclude researchers from five institutes of the Partnership for European Environmental Research (PEER).

For their newly published report, “Implementing the Green Economy in a European Context: Lessons Learned from Theories, Concepts and Case Studies,” the researchers studied 10 innovative cases from Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

They found that successful projects include a broad range of stakeholders, have strong and consistent political support, and integrate research activities into the implementation of the initiatives.

In his forward to the report, PEER Chairman Prof. Dr. Georg Teutsch wrote, “These case studies were utilized to reveal opportunities, but also barriers and challenges for the transformation into a zero waste, renewable bio- and ecosystem-services-based production system.”

“The project aimed at producing increased understanding about the concepts and foundations for future circular and green economy securing the maintenance of a full range of ecosystem services on which society relies,” he wrote.

Transitions to a green economy are never purely based on win-win solutions, but require trade-offs among multiple goals across many sectors, the report finds.

Reaching a win-win proposition becomes more laborious the more stakeholders and competing interests there are, the researchers explained. “Sometimes win-win solutions were not enough if the alternatives remained more profitable, market structures did not encourage change or stakeholders were not committed.”

Driven to meet growing demands for food, drinking water, timber, fiber, and fuel as well as minerals, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively over the past 100 years than at any time in human history, according to the report.

“These changes are a result of traditional one-way linear economic models: resource – product – waste and may lead to depletion of natural resources and irreversible changes in the environment,” the report states.

Today, civil society, industrial and political leaders are acknowledging the urgent need for reconsideration and revision of this type of thinking.

Greening an economy is being promoted as a new strategy for enhancing human well-being and reducing environmental risk, defined as “low-carbon and climate proof, resource-efficient and socially inclusive,” according to the report.

The PEER report contains conceptual analysis and empirical case studies that indicate the need for far-sighted planning, multi-source financing and wide stakeholder participation in green economy initiatives.

Jyväskylä

Jyväskylä is the largest city in the region of central Finland on the Finnish Lakeland. It was the subject of one of the 10 cases analyzed in the PEER report.

 

 

 

 

The 10 case studies spanned national, regional and local activities.

The two on the national level are:

  • Germany’s energy transition, since the 1980s
  • Increasing the construction of large-scale buildings from wood in Finland, since the 1990s

 

The five regional cases are from France, Finland and Germany. They are:

  • A project to support the implementation of biogas plants in the area of Brittany, France (2007-11)
  • A project to minimize organic waste in the Rennes Metropole region of France (2010-2012)
  •  A project to develop the city of Jyväskylä, Finland into a resource-wise region (2013-2015)
  •  A project to form a network of Finnish municipalities that creates and carries out solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since 2008
  • An initiative to sell certificates on emission reductions to support peat land restoration, since 2010

 

The three local case studies are:

  • An industrial symbiosis initiative in the harbor area of Dunkirk, France, since the 1960s
  • Cooperation between farmers and the water company to improve soil in the Duurzaam region of The Netherlands, since 2013
  • A project on off-shore macroalgae cultivation to promote circular resource management and bio-based production in Denmark, since 2012

 

Lea Kauppi, Director General of the Finnish Environment Institute and a former PEER chairperson.

“As illustrated by the study, the complexity and multi-sectoral nature of the green economy calls for a broad integration of sectors connected to environment, innovation, transport, housing, energy, agriculture and spatial planning,” said Lea Kauppi, director general of the Finnish Environment Institute, one of the five institutes responsible for the report, and a former PEER chairperson.

“The case studies also illustrate the need for comprehensive analysis of the effects of regulation and legislation, as well as the importance of stakeholder commitment, good leadership and coordination,” she said.

The report concludes that transforming the economy requires innovation in terms of technology, organizational support, market and broader societal conditions, and an overarching governance framework, but most of all, a consistent and cross-sectoral political will.

All the PEER partners supported the preparation of the project, and finally five institutes were the active research members: the Finnish Environment Institute, which handled coordination of the project; Alterra Wageningen UR in the Netherlands; IRSTEA – the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture in France; the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ in Germany; and the (DCE) Danish Centre for Environment and Energy at Aarhus University.

A biogas plant in the Brittany region of France developed by Hera Cleantech, the environmental engineering division of the Spanish international group Hera Holding.

A biogas plant in the Brittany region of France developed by Hera Cleantech, the environmental engineering division of the Spanish international group Hera Holding.

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main and Featured image: This windfarm in Gemeinde Driedorf, Hesse, Germany is part of the German transition from energy generated from fossil fuels and nuclear power stations to renewable energy. June 2013 (Photo by Neuwieser) under creative commons license via Flickr
Image 01: Lea Kauppi is director general of the Finnish Environment Institute and a former PEER chairperson. (Photo courtesy Linkedin)
Image 02: A biogas plant in the Brittany (Photo courtesy Hera Cleantech)

Closing the Loop: EU Quarrels Over Circular Economy Plan

MEPs2015

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 30, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – The European Commission has adopted a new Circular Economy Package it says will help European businesses and consumers contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use.

But Members of the European Parliament are critical of the new package.

The Commission says its plan will extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, encouraging energy savings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing benefits to Europe’s environment and economy.

The changes are needed, the Commission says, because global competition for resources is increasing. The concentration of resources outside the EU, particularly critical raw materials, makes industry and society within the 28 Member States dependent on imports and vulnerable to high prices, market volatility, and the political situation in supplying countries.

The new Circular Economy Package sets a common EU target for recycling 65 percent of municipal waste and 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030.

The plan calls for a binding target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10 percent, with a complete ban on landfill for separately collected waste.

There will be economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment as well as vehicles, among other products.

There are also plans to harmonize the way recycling rates are calculated across the Member States.

The proposals require action at all stages of the life cycle of products – from the extraction of raw materials, through material and product design, the production, distribution and consumption of goods, repair, re-manufacturing and re-use schemes, all the way through to waste management and recycling.

All these stages are linked. For instance, use of certain hazardous substances in the production of products can affect their recycling potential, and improvements in terms of resource and energy efficiency can be made at all stages.

In July 2014, under President Jose Barroso, the Commission adopted a Circular Economy Package that included a proposal for the review of waste legislation in response to the legal obligation to review the targets of three Directives: the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive, and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.

Then, on November 1, 2014, a new Commission took office under President Jean-Claude Juncker. In its 2015 Work Programme, the Juncker Commission announced its intention to withdraw the 2014 proposal on Waste Review and to replace it with a new, more ambitious proposal to promote the circular economy by the end of 2015.

Two main reasons motivated this withdrawal.

First, the overall approach presented in July 2014 had an exclusive focus on waste management, without exploring synergies with other policies such as the development of markets for secondary raw materials.

Second, the Juncker Commission wanted to make the proposal more country specific and improve the implementation of waste policy, particularly existing problems of non-compliance.

On December 2, the Juncker Commission presented its new Circular Economy Package to the European Parliament.

The new initiative would establish a framework to overcome past shortcomings and create conditions for the development of a circular economy “with a clear and ambitious political vision combined with effective policy tools that can drive real change on the ground,” the Juncker Commission said.

The Commission said its new package “contributes to broad political priorities by tackling climate change and the environment while boosting job creation, economic growth, investment and social fairness.”

KatainenJyrki

The package was prepared by a core project team co-chaired by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, with the close involvement of Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Karmenu Vella and Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska.

Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said, “Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach. We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them.”

“The circular economy is about reducing waste and protecting the environment, but it is also about a profound transformation of the way our entire economy works,” Timmermans said. “By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs. With today’s package, we are delivering the comprehensive framework that will truly enable this change to happen.”

“It sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle. This mix of smart regulation and incentives at EU level will help businesses and consumers, as well as national and local authorities, to drive this transformation,” said Timmermans.

Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said, “These proposals give a positive signal to those waiting to invest in the circular economy. Today we are saying that Europe is the best place to grow a sustainable and environmentally-friendly business.”

“This transition towards a more circular economy is about reshaping the market economy and improving our competitiveness,” said Katainen, a former Finnish prime minister. “If we can be more resource efficient and reduce our dependency on scarce raw materials, we can develop a competitive edge. The job creation potential of the circular economy is huge, and the demand for better, more efficient products and services is booming.”

The Juncker Commission is in partnership with the European Investment Bank to fund the new package.

On December 10, Vella blogged that the partners signed an amendment to the InnovFin Delegation Agreement “that will enable higher-risk, yet innovative sustainable business models and plans to access credit through InnovFin – an EU finance support programme under Horizon 2020.”

Funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds will suppport the new Circular Economy Package, the Commission said.

“The proposals are a powerful enabling framework, but we will also need substantial private sector funding directed towards the circular economy,” wrote Vella. “The European Fund for Strategic Investment (the ‘Juncker Plan’) is one tool to support this. The Commission would like to also guide future investment, steering it more towards green choices, with progressive divestment from unsustainable activities.”

Vella wrote that the EIB, the Commission and national banks plan to work together to increase awareness of circular economy financing.

But many Members of the European Parliament are not impressed with the new package.

The 65 percent target is a point of contention. Although the Juncker Commission says the new package is far more ambitious than its predecessor, MEPs point out that Barroso’s team wanted to introduce a 70 percent target in 2014.

Karl-Heinz Florenz, a German Member of the European Parliament who sits with the European People’s Party group, told the “Parliament Magazine” that the new proposal amounts to “much ado about nothing.”

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Vice-Chair Kathleen Van Brempt of Belgium said, “This ambitious roadmap needs to be supported by specific targets, and our political group will try to build a consensus in the Parliament to introduce those targets, to make sure the roadmap is accomplished.”

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, shadow rapporteur on the circular economy with the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, accused the Commission of, “wasting months of work and many hours of parliamentary time.”

“With a weakened waste proposal and an action plan copy-pasted from the 2010 roadmap to a resource efficient Europe, it’s clear the European Commission is failing to deliver on this important agenda for growth and jobs,” the Dutch MEP told the “Parliament Magazine.”

Greens/European Free Alliance Group Vice-Chair Bas Eickhout commented, “While we welcome the fact that the Commission has finally come forward with revised proposals on the circular economy, we are concerned that the plans are undermined by the reduced ambition. This is contrary to the commitment by the Commission for a more ambitious proposal.”

“A year on from the initial decision by the Commission to withdraw its original proposals, we have lost both time and ambition in the push to stimulate the circular economy at EU level,” said Eickhout.

Green environment spokesperson Davor Škrlec said, “It is a major shame that the Commission is not seeking to maximize the potential of the circular economy. We will seek to address some of the shortcomings in Parliament.”

Responding to criticism of the new package, Vice President Timmermans pointed out that the legally-binding 10 percent cap on land-filling was, “completely new” and that the 65 percent target for recyclables was, “an extremely ambitious goal, which for many member states will require a huge effort.”

Key actions under the Juncker Commission’s new Circular Economy Package include:

  • Funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds;
  • Actions to reduce food waste, including a common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and tools to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030;
  • Development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market;
  • Measures in the Ecodesign working plan for 2015-2017 to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency;
  • A revised regulation on fertilizers, to facilitate the recognition of organic and waste-based fertilizers in the single market and support the role of bio-nutrients;
  • A strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues of recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in plastics, and the Sustainable Development Goals target for reducing marine litter;
  • A series of actions on water reuse, including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for the reuse of wastewater.
  • A clear timeline for the actions proposed and a plan for a simple and effective monitoring framework for the circular economy.

Vice President Katainen said, “We will remove barriers that make it difficult for businesses to optimize their resource use and we will boost the internal market for secondary raw materials. We want to achieve real progress on the ground and look forward to delivering on this ambition together with not only Member States, regions and municipalities, but also businesses, industry and civil society.”

LandfillUK


 

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Members of the European Parliament in plenary session, 2015. (Photo courtesy European Parliament) © European Union 2015 – European Parliament.
Featured image: Naples, Italy struggles with longstanding garbage problems, June 2007 (Photo by Chris Beckett) under Creative Commons license via Flickr
Image 01: EU Vice-President Jyrki Katainen addresses the European Parliament, January 2015 © European Union 2015 – European Parliament. (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Creative Commons licenses creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Image 02: Landfill at the Selly Oak Battery Park redevelopment site in Birmingham, England, May 2015 (Photo by Elliott Brown) under Creative Commons license via Flickr