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September 08, 2011

Protecting Ukraine's Consumers

Consumer protection is an integral part of human rights. Independent Ukraines history of regulation and practice in this area dates back to 1991, when a framework law was introduced. This system emerged from the soviet one, based on detailed technical quality standards that ensured the homogeneity of products all across the USSR while severely restricting variety and quantity. However, such standards dont work in an open market economy: instead of ensuring consumer safety, they ensure bureaucratic pressure on business.

After numerous legislative and institutional changes, Ukraines consumer protection system continues to demonstrate a number of problems:

  • vague provisions in law that hamper consumer protection;
  • liability for violations too marginal to provide incentives;
  • poor consumer protection with regard to services and works;
  • restricted access to key consumer product information on the part of businesses;
  • poor capacity to test for and confirm defects in products;
  • poor consumer information flow from the government;
  • poor access to state authorities responsible for consumer protection at the local level;
  • a government that neither supports nor cooperates with consumer-oriented CSOs;
  • no collective or class-action judicial protection;
  • no national strategy, program or plan for consumer protection reform.

Most of these problems are the result of Ukraines consumer protection system not being in sync with modern international systems, such as the EUs. Worse, this issue has not been included in the current national reform agenda, which means that activities, measures and decisions are not only not plannedthey are not even up for discussion. At the same time, reforms of technical regulation and food safety are quite detailed and properly planned, which should benefit both businesses and consumers.

The approximation of Ukraines consumer protection system to that of the EU will be extensively covered in the upcoming Association Agreement, which contains a specific list of acts of EU acquis that must be harmonized. Ukraine will need the capacity for proper planning and change management to ensure that these acts are adopted and implemented.

Civil society has been active in consumer protection from the very beginning, concentrating on consumer education, product testing and assistance to consumers in protecting their rights. The consumer NGO community has been consolidated in initiating policy changes to address the existing problems, but it has not seen much success and its activeness has waned.

The recent joint technical assistance project of EU and UNDP was successful in mobilizing and uniting consumer NGOs to form an All-Ukrainian federation that is lobbying its policy initiatives to reform the existing consumer protection system in Ukraine and adapt it to European norms and standards.

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