Conference on Cross-Border Enforcement of Consumer Law

On March 17, 2022, the University of Reading organized a conference on cross-border enforcement of consumer law with the generous support of the UK Competition and Market Authority and the UNCTAD Secretariat.

Opening remarks by Prof. Christine Riefa (University of Reading), Teresa Moreira (UNCTAD) and Andrew Hadley (CMA)

The first session addressed the difficulties related to the global and cross-border enforcement of consumer law. According to the UNCTAD’s World Consumer Protection Map, 60% of respondents reported having no experience with cross-border cooperation of consumer protection. This finding is intrinsically linked to the key challenges arising in cross-border situations, such as the applicable law and jurisdiction, the lack of investigative powers to address cross-border unfair commercial practices, insufficient resources, and the difficulty to share confidential evidence across countries. As speakers pointed out, developing concrete solutions to these challenges requires a better understanding of the legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms available at the national level. A fundamental step towards more effective cross-border enforcement of consumer law is therefore to map the various consumer protection systems that are in place across the world – a work currently carried out by the UNCTAD Sub-Working Group 3 on Cross-Border Enforcement Cooperation.

Speakers: Prof. Geneviève Saumier (McGill University), Prof. Hans-W. Micklitz (European University Institute), Jason Freeman (CMA)

The second session reflected on the value of international co-operation and the design of international networks in enforcement. Speakers recognized the prominent role played by regional organizations (e.g. African Consumer Dialogue, European Consumer Protection Cooperation Network) and international networks (e.g. OECD, UNCTAD, ICPEN) in strengthening collaboration among consumer protection authorities. While bilateral agreements and regional frameworks have proven to be highly efficient, there is a pressing need to engage the entire network of authorities to tackle cross-border fraudulent commercial practices on a global scale. The OECD Legislative Toolkit for Consumer Protection Enforcement Cooperation, together with the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection, were identified as key instruments to assist countries in the implementation of cross-border enforcement. Beyond that, another crucial point was raised during the conference to foster cross-border enforcement of consumer law: the need for collaboration between multilateral networks.

Speakers: Brigitte Acoca (OECD), Hugh Stevenson (FTC), Boniface Kamiti (CAK), Angelo Grieco (European Commission)

The third session drew from other disciplines to explore more advanced system designs. It was found that measuring damage, defining problems, and setting priorities are key actions that should be undertaken to guide government investments in enforcement. Speakers noted that a central body with funding might be needed to facilitate information sharing and coordinate actions on cross-border enforcement of consumer law. The development of such institutions in other sectors has, however, benefitted from public interest and political will. This therefore implies that we must reinforce the importance of consumer protection as well as demonstrate the necessity and benefits of cross-border enforcement.

Speakers: Neville Matthew (ACCC), Dr. Or Brook (University of Leeds), Dr. Kati Cseres (University of Amsterdam), Patricia Vance (ESRB & IARC)

The last session examined how technology can facilitate cross-border enforcement. Speakers noted that there is a significant gap between the reach of the Internet and enforcement activities, which could be bridged by the development of so-called enforcement technologies. Several case studies were presented during the session, such as the deployment of a legal compliance programming interface to social media or the use of algorithms to reduce consumer harms. The most obvious example is the use of technology for online dispute resolution, which has attracted determined interest among speakers as a global consumer redress tool. However, there are important factors to consider when using these technologies across borders, such as the importance of data quality, machine-readable formats, and resources.

Speakers: Liz Coll (Connected Consumers), Dr. Catalina Goanta (Utrecht University), David Dorrell (CMA)

Above all, the key takeaway of the conference is that cross-border enforcement of consumer law is vital – especially at a time when every jurisdiction around the world is facing the implications of at least two global phenomena: digitalization and sustainability.

Laura Aade

PhD Candidate in Digital Consumer Law at the University of Luxembourg

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