For some reason, consumer protection here in Finland has often been seen in a narrow sense as an obstacle to business, not in a broader sense as a critical part of business operations. Also, we often find business skills here lacking when it comes to consumer matters.
The Finnish Consumer Agency receives approximately 20,000 reports each year that show many companies consistently fall short of the most basic expectations in this area.
Consumer retailing matters are currently not addressed by public advisory services for businesses. It is fortunate, then, that this issue is raised in the Finnish Government's new consumer policy program, which includes a separate chapter on improving business skills in the handling of consumer matters.
The goal is to address consumer retail issues more thoroughly in advisory services designed for entrepreneurs. More emphasis will be placed on expertise in consumer matters as a factor in a company's success, and material will be added to the YritysSuomi.fi portal (EnterpriseFinland business service) by the end of this year. We are already working on this with the SME Foundation.
Good models are to be found in England, for example, where an entrepreneur can obtain information suitable for his or her type of business directly from an Internet service, including instructions about consumer retail.
Improved business skills in consumer matters could considerably enhance the Consumer Agency's ability to provide services by reducing the number of complaints received about very basic issues. Until now, the trend has been in the opposite direction; based on the situation in spring, we estimate that this year twice as many complaints will be received as last year.
It's a relief that the Finnish Parliament, too, is treating this as a serious matter as it considers revisions to Chapter 2 of the Consumer Protection Act. The Commerce Committee issued a statement that mentions the importance of having enough highly qualified staff at the Consumer Agency to handle supervisory tasks so that backlog is avoided and consumers' rights are increasingly better assured. The Commerce Committee agrees with the view of national auditors and the National Audit Office of Finland that the introduction of new methods should be considered, since the current means of enforcement available to the Consumer Ombudsman to stop illegal marketing are inadequate and ineffective when an entrepreneur repeatedly breaks the established rules of the game.
It is also encouraging that the need for new regulations concerning good marketing practices, particularly in regard to the special position of children, has been considered in both Committee and full Parliamentary sessions.
Enterprises should start looking at consumer retail rules as offering a positive way to improve customer service and business skills. As research has shown, companies that invest in consumer quality are more successful.
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