Newsletter No. 439

No. 439, 4.6.2014 3 core message is that harmful substances were found in some of the cat foods and dog foods sold locally, and long- term consumption could increase the risk of certain health problems. Professor Hui said that it would be enough if this message could get across to ordinary citizens. ‘Pet owners will read the report in detail. Those who don’t have a pet now will keep this knowledge in mind, which may come in handy someday. Then we achieve what we want to achieve with the press conference.’ Mr. Leung admitted the tight schedule produces butterflies in the stomach. ‘You have to properly prepare for the task. When it involves chemical terms, such as melamine and cyanuric acid, you have to know well what they are and how they affect human health. You have to take in more information to boost your confidence.’ As their teammate, Ms. Wong said that they’ve made progress every time they meet the media. They were a little bit tense at first. But now they handle the situation with ease. Consumer Awareness and Mentality The Consumer Council receives tens of thousands of complaints every year. Professor Hui sees it positively. ‘Getting more complaints doesn’t necessarily mean that Hong Kong has more unscrupulous businessmen. That may reflect the fact that consumers know more about their rights and there are more channels for lodging complaints.’ Are Hong Kong consumers terrible complainants? Does the Consumer Council side with the consumers only? ‘Hong Kong people rank high in terms of awareness of consumer rights. Most of them are reasonable consumers,’ said Gilly Wong. ‘The council’s emblem is a scale. At the two sides of the scale are consumers and business environment. We uphold fairness and justice when advocating a policy or ordinance that protects consumer interests. We’ll study the business environment and Council 唸大學是消費嗎? Is going to university an act of consumption? 許:把學生當作消費者,很多人覺得市儈。從市場學角度而言,任何人士透過有形或無形的付出 換取物品或服務,都是消費者。學生付出時間、金錢與努力來大學換取知識和學習經驗,是交 易。營銷學談的是怎樣令交易更公平更有效率。我們要了解不同背景、動機、能力的學生的期 望,學習形式和喜好,切合其需要,這影響到設施、課程、特色設定、師資、教學法和招生範圍。 梁:讀書不是傳統的消費活動,而是你投放甚麽便會得到甚麽。學生付費後不能抱着等候服侍 或餵食的心態。今時今日,資訊流通,免費知識多的是,只欠一根導盲杆指點方向。大學四年, 是生命中的黃金時間,應着重怎樣跟教授和同學互動,促進本身成長。不好好利用,得到的就只 是一個學位。 Hui: Many people think that it is indecent to see students as consumers. From the angle of marketing, anyone who pays monetarily or non-monetarily to obtain goods or services is a consumer. Students spend time, money and effort to obtain knowledge and learning experiences. It’s a kind of transaction. Marketing is about how to make the transactions fair and efficient. We have to understand the aspirations, learning patterns and preferences of students with diverse backgrounds, motivations and abilities, and meet their needs. This affects our facilities, curriculum, positioning, faculty, teaching methods, and admission pool. Leung: Studying is not a conventional form of consumption. You get what you put in. Students should not wait to be served or fed. In the age of information, free knowledge is abundant and what you really need is a beacon to guide you the way. The four years spent as an undergraduate at a university is the prime of your life. You should spend it on the interactions with teachers and fellow students, thus helping your personal growth. Otherwise, what you get in the end is just a certificate. consult stakeholders. When mediating disputes, we’ll first see whether the demands of the consumers are legitimate, whether traders’ product claims are misleading, or whether there is any miscommunication.’ What is the major trap for consumers? Professor Hui gave a rational analysis: Is your purchase motivated by real needs, or by a bargain? ‘This bargain hunting mentality is the biggest trap. If you really need a product or service, whether it is a good bargain or not should not be your major consideration. People in Hong Kong and the whole China embrace bargain hunting. This mentality is the root of a lot of problems. Rights don’t come without a price tag. The “no questions asked” return policy in western countries goes hand in hand with their consumers’ willingness to pay a reasonable price. What they buy is not just goods, but also concomitant guarantees.’ Learning from Public Service Philip Leung decided to get involved in public service because he believed he had something to contribute. But it turned out that he gained more than he gave. ‘Consumption is everyday life. Buying a can of luncheon meat, a packet of instant noodles, clothes, services are all acts of consumption. I’ve worked at the University for several decades. I don’t even need to leave the campus for lunch. The people I deal with are either students or teaching and administrative staff. I feel as if I’m living in an ivory tower if I don’t get venture outside. Participating in Consumer Council’s work helps me know more about ordinary people’s lives. I’ve seen the most unreasonable businessmen and consumers, a lot of webs of interests, and familiarized myself with market trends and legal protection of consumers. We receive requests for advice and complaints from time to time in the University. But they’re nothing compared to the diabolic culture of complaint that I’ve seen off campus. Learning how to handle them and how to explain the limits of our abilities is valuable lesson for me.’ According to Gilly Wong, the council is an ever-learning public body. ‘We have to keep ourselves abreast of the needs and behavioural patterns of consumers, and stay one step ahead of them. We need to allocate resources to the research of consumption patterns, consumer sentiment index, and get to know new products, and keep an eye on the latest trade practices.’ The triennial plan of the council includes several aggressive goals, namely, completion of an in-depth study of the practices of certain trades and industries, development of an online platform for providing consumers with information and getting from them data about consumer behaviour, and promotion of the concept of sustainable consumption. When asked about the most exciting recent developments in the area of consumer protection, they all mentioned the Trade Descriptions (Unfair Trade Practices) (Amendment) Ordinance, the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance, and the Competition Ordinance passed in 2012. These three far-reaching ordinances directly or indirectly provide protection for consumers, and help to create a level playing field for traders to develop and compete. Relevant publicity and education campaigns, enforcement guidelines, and amendments are what the Consumer Council will focus on in the years to come. 梁光漢先生 Mr. Leung Kwong-hon Philip