Since its establishment in 1974, the Consumer Council has continuously evolved with the times and has been adapting to societal changes in the consumption environment and behaviour. From wet markets to online shopping, and from printed reports to the Oil Price Watch mobile app, the Council has resolutely strived for improvement in sharing information on all aspects of daily life through different ways, witnessing historical changes while staying true to its mission in protecting consumer rights.
In the 1970s, the global oil crisis led to a high inflation. As a result, the prices of essential daily commodities soared, yet there was wide disparity in their qualities. Under these circumstances, the Council was established in April 1974 to monitor the quality of products and services on the market to protect consumer rights.
The Consumer Council was founded in 1974. The founding Chairman was the Hon. Sir Y.K. Kan and the first Executive Director was Ms Ophelia Cheung, JP.
The "Daily Bulletin of Retail Prices of Major Foodstuffs" was broadcast every morning on the radio, offering price comparison for market shoppers.
The forerunner of CHOICE magazine – Consumers Monthly Newsletter was launched with a print run of 30,000 copies for free distribution.
The first 2 Consumer Advice Centres were opened in the District Offices in Wan Chai and Sham Shui Po, the first of its kind in Asia.
CHOICE Magazine debuted at a cover price of HK$1 and featured cooking oil as the first product test.
The Council became a member of the International Organisation of Consumers Unions (IOCU) (now known as Consumers International), striving for the betterment of consumer rights.
A number of study reports were published, including the first report on residential property transactions, installment purchases (hire purchase) in Hong Kong, and the truncation of films by film distributors.
The Consumer Council Ordinance was formally enacted, incorporating the Council as a statutory body.
In collaboration with the Education Department, a consumer education teaching kit was created and widely adopted by schools. In addition, a series of seminars were held to directly promote consumer rights to the public.
Organised its first Consumer Education Seminar in partnership with IOCU on the theme of "The Law and the Consumer" with attendance of delegates from over 20 countries and regions.
The 80s saw the rise of the Hong Kong economy as it went through the transition gradually from manufacturing to service industries. In the meantime, the heightened consumer awareness had made consumers more inclined to pursue service quality than merely concerned about the safety and price of the products. Riding on the opportunity in handling complaints arising from the widespread closure of various industries such as travel agencies, the Council had made various suggestions that laid a firm foundation for the legislations of a number of consumer protection laws.
Anti-smoking legislation banning smoking in public area was enacted in November 1981. The Council undertook to publish at regular intervals the results of the test on the tar and nicotine contents of cigarettes conducted by the Government Chemist.
The Council publicly named and reprimanded traders for malpractices and a total of 34 shops were named in the 80s.
After rounds of consultation with the Council regarding safety issues of domestic gas and electric appliances, the Government amended the Electricity Supply Ordinance and Regulations in 1984, authorising Government departments to establish safety standards for regulating electrical appliances.
The Trade Descriptions (Marking) (Gold and Gold Alloy) Order was enacted and implemented by the Government, mandating that every article made of gold for sale shall bear a mark indicating its gold purity. A Council representative took part in the Advisory Committee during the drafting stage of the legislation and provided constructive recommendations.
In view of the surge in complaints against money changers for charging commissions under different guises, legislative control for the regulation of the trade was brought in by the Government in response to the Council's recommendations.
The Council launched its first large-scale consumer right advertising campaign – "World Consumer Rights Day" on 15 March 1984.
From issue 110, CHOICE underwent a major revamp involving a brand new look in content, layout, design as well as featuring celebrities on the cover. Superstar Leslie Cheung debuted as the first ever cover star for this issue with cassette tapes as the focus test product.
The Council publicly named and reprimanded 11 traders in 1985, including second-hand car dealers, electric appliance stores, tourist camera stores and moving companies, for their unscrupulous trade practices. The action served as a formal warning for the traders as well as an alert for the public to raise awareness to such unscrupulous trade practices.
A number of consumer protection legislations long-advocated by the Council came into effect, including the Trade Descriptions Ordinance and the Travel Agents Ordinance.
Mrs. Pamela Chan, BBS, JP took the helm as the 2nd Chief Executive of the Council on 1 May 1985.
The Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment) Regulation was passed in 1986 to enhance consumer protection.
Triggered by the close-down of a number of major travel agencies between 1986 to 87, the authorities accepted the Council’s proposal of redress measures to safeguard consumer interests and amended the Travel Agents Ordinance.
The new Weights and Measures Ordinance came into operation to regulate trade transactions regarding goods supplied based on weights or measures.
CHOICE published its first test report on condoms in the August 1988 issue, which saw an unsurpassed historical high circulation of 73,000 copies.
In 1989, the Council and 9 organisations jointly proposed the standardised method for measuring saleable area of residential properties to be adopted in sales brochures and sales and purchase agreements, to tackle the problems in residential property transactions.
A publicity video was launched focusing on outbound packaged tour travel with the slogan – "Consumers have the right to be informed. The more you ask, the smarter you are".
In the economic heyday of the 90s, Hong Kong cemented its status as Asia's financial centre but at the same time it entailed a booming property market and the concomitant rampant property speculation with property prices hitting the historical peak in 1997, yet the sales practices and contractual regulations had attracted a lot of criticisms. The Council conducted research and drafted a number of important consumer protection policies and legislations, laying a firm foundation for advocating fair competition in the market. At the same time, the Consumer Legal Action Fund (CLAF) was established to assist aggrieved consumers to seek redress through legal actions.
The Control of Exemption Clauses Ordinance came into effect in December 1990. Traders could no longer evade liability through unreasonable exemption contract clauses.
Launched an extensive publicity campaign to educate the public on their right to redress with the slogan "Your consumer rights are in your hands. Speak up to fight for your rights!"
The Consumer Council Ordinance was amended to further extend the Council's statutory functions to include real estate property transactions and rentals, offering even greater consumer protection to the public.
The Council hosted the 13th IOCU World Congress in July 1991, attended by about 500 delegates from 60 countries and regions.
In response to then Governor Chris Patten's emphasis on defending a free market in his policy address in 1992, the Council set up a working group which paved the way for the subsequent legislation of the Competition Ordinance.
The Toys and Children's Products Safety Ordinance was promulgated in July 1992, marking a new milestone for ensuring the safety of children's products.
The Council published its first competition policy study report in February 1994, calling for the abolition of the Interest Rate Agreement by phases. The recommendation was accepted by the Government.
3 competition sectoral study reports were published, including the proposal of opening up the Towngas pipeline distribution network, and the establishment of a policy bureau led by a Principal Official to coordinate the broadcasting, telecoms and information technology policies. The recommendations were well received by the Government.
The legislations of the Supply of Services (Implied Terms) Ordinance, the Unconscionable Contracts Ordinance and the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance were passed in October 1994, along with the Sales of Goods (Amendment) Ordinance.
In December 1994, the Consumer Legal Action Fund (CLAF) was established with an initial grant of HK$10 million from the Government. The Council was appointed as the Trustee of the Fund to provide legal assistance to cases involving significant consumer interest.
In 1995, the Unconscionable Contracts Ordinance came into effect, empowering courts to void certain contracts that were found to be unconscionable.
The Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance was enacted to impose control on the safety of consumer goods.
The Council published a study report titled "Competition Policy: the Key to Hong Kong’s Future Economic Success", calling for a comprehensive competition policy to be backed up by related legislation.
The Council's recommendations on the licensing of estate agents was well received by the Government. The Estate Agents Authority (EAA) was formally established in 1997 with Council's representatives appointed as members of its Committees and a number of its Working Groups.
In 1997, the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation came into effect, mandating all electrical products to comply with the essential and specified safety requirements to avoid safety risks.
The Council started co-organising the Consumer Culture Study Award with the Education Bureau (EDB) from 1999.
In the 90s, the Council's publicity slogan – "Your consumer rights are in your hands. Speak up to fight for your rights!" and the advertisement with the casting of Dodo Cheng and Ng Man-tat had gained wide public recognition.
In the new millennium, Hong Kong was badly hit by both the SARS epidemic and the financial tsunami that adversely affected the economy and the people's livelihood, causing people become more concerned about the prices and qualities of consumer products. The Government introduced the Independent Visitor Scheme after the SARS epidemic to boost tourism and help stabilize the economy, while the Council also advocated amendments to various legislations and initiated new services, and at the same time offered assistance via CLAF to consumers affected by the Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy and the One Beacon Hill incident.
In 2001, the Council submitted to the Government its study report with recommendations for consumer protection legislations to curb the spread of deceptive, misleading and unfair trade practices in consumer transactions. This involved amendments to a number of existing legislations including the Small Claims Tribunal Ordinance, Trade Descriptions Ordinance, Summary Offences Ordinance and Unconscionable Contracts Ordinance.
In July, the Council conducted a survey regarding the abolishment of the Interest Rate Agreement in banking. Results confirmed that substitute products and deposit account services were offered by banks to cater for the needs of different clients.
In October, the Consumer Council Resource Centre was inaugurated in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.
In April 2002, the Council hosted the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) Asian Regional Seminar on "Competition Policy and Multilateral Negotiations: the Post-Doha Mandate" in Hong Kong. The participants included delegates from 15 countries and 5 regions as well as representatives of international organisations.
In mid-2002, an advisory guideline was disseminated to recommend procedures for tendering parties to identify and prevent bid-rigging.
To safeguard the health of citizens during SARS outbreak in 2003, the Council conducted a number of research and tests on surgical face masks, sanitation and disinfectant products, and other items claiming protective efficacy against SARS.
The "Wet Markets vs Supermarkets: Competition in the Foodstuffs and Household Necessities Retailing Sector" study report was published in July.
On 6 January 2004, eCHOICE – the online version of CHOICE Magazine – was officially launched.
A Working Group for the Beauty Industry Code of Practice was formed in July, with a representative from the Council as the convener and 11 industry representatives as members.
In November, the Council co-organised the First International Consumer Research and Testing (ICRT) Asian Region Conference and Training Workshop in Hong Kong.
In December, Memoranda of Understanding for co-operation of consumers' rights and interests were signed with consumer associations in Beijing, Shanghai and Macau.
In 2005, the Council's Consumer Legal Action Fund assisted a group of buyers of One Beacon Hill. After 8 years of legal proceedings, a settlement was finally reached in 2014, and the affected flat owners were compensated for the delay in property completion.
In March 2007, the Council's Chief Executive, Mrs. Pamela Chan, BBS, JP retired. She was succeeded by Ms. Connie Lau on 1 April of the same year.
The April issue of CHOICE reported cases of women suffering from serious complications after using PAAG for breast augmentation. This led to a ban on PAAG injections by the Mainland authorities.
A new website Shopsmart catering for Mainland tourists was launched on 21 September 2007.
2008 saw a rising number of mainland tourists’ complaints against undesirable trade practices. The Council published the "Fairness in the Marketplace for Consumers and Business" report and submitted to the Government for consideration. This led to the amendment of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance to cover services and prohibit unfair trade practices.
The report "A Study on Live Pig Pricing" was published in August to investigate the features of the fresh pork marketplace structure, and to observe whether anti-competitive conduct may ensue.
A standardised definition of "Saleable Area" came into effect in October and was applicable to the pre-sale consents of the new development projects, helping potential buyers gain more accurate information on the area of the property.
The Council had been very concerned about the fuel prices and launched an online Auto-fuel Price Calculator in February, helping consumers compare the auto-fuel prices of 5 local oil companies. A mobile version was subsequently rolled out in April.
The Council launched a number of new price watch initiatives from 2008, including foodstuffs, daily necessities, the daily wet market price survey, etc. In April 2009, the Council started conducting regular price surveys of infant formula across Hong Kong and released the information online to help consumers make informed choices.
After receiving a large number of complaints related to the Lehman Brothers‘ bankruptcy in 2008, the Council has provided financial assistance to aggrieved consumers for taking legal action under the Consumer Legal Action Fund (CLAF) since 2009. After years of follow-up action by the Council, some consumers eventually succeeded in getting refund in 2014.
In July, in celebration of the Council's 35th Anniversary, a Symposium on "Promotion of Consumer Rights and Equity Culture" was held with over 200 participants in attendance. On the day, 8 former Chairpersons of the Council attended a Round-Table Discussion Session on the topic of "The Way Forward for the Hong Kong Consumer Council: Wisdom from the Past, Insight for the Future". A roving exhibition was held from August to October.
The "Monthly Wet Market Food Price Index" was launched in September to monitor the price level of 26 food items in 44 wet markets across the 18 districts of Hong Kong. Price changes of 4 categories of foodstuffs – meat, fish, vegetable and fruit – were evaluated on a monthly basis.
Online shopping boomed as technology advanced in the 2010's. Since then, consumers have become increasingly aware of personal data privacy and sustainable consumption. Keeping abreast of the times, the Council had safeguarded the long-term interests of consumers with profound vision by disseminating information to consumers through various channels. Over 20 study reports were published covering topics such as the MPF Employee Choice Arrangement (ECA), first-hand residential property sales; and a number of test reports on products such as honey and anti-wrinkle cream were reprinted due to popular demand. Also, several consumer rights legislations were passed in the 2010's, including the Competition Ordinance and the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance, which were the fruits of the Council's continued effort since the 1980's.
The Council teamed up with Shantou University to organise the first Consumer Culture Study Award in the Mainland China, to promote relevant issues, concepts and skills training in conducting consumer culture studies. The “Third Age Persons Consumer Culture Study Award" was also piloted in the same year, with the aim to enhance senior citizens' understanding and analysis of local consumer culture.
From 2010, the Council published a number of market study and survey reports, covering popular topics such as sales of first-hand residential properties, infant formula supply, auto-fuel pricing report, etc.
The new Nutrition Labelling Scheme came into effect in July 2010. In addition to surveys conducted from March to July, the Council also promoted and educated consumers on the new scheme in collaboration with the Centre for Food Safety.
In December, a seminar on the proposed Competition Bill was organised specifically for small and medium enterprises to canvass their views and any issues they might have. Over 120 representatives from various trades and commerce and industrial organisations attended the seminar.
In March, coinciding with the theme of World Consumer Rights Day 2011 – "Consumers for Fair Financial Services", the Council conducted an online survey to collect consumers' opinions on banking services.
The Council co-organised the 19th Consumers International (CI) World Congress from 3 to 6 May, drawing a global assembly of some 700 delegates from over 60 countries, the highest attendance in the history of the Congress.
The Council proposed improvements on the Pyramid Schemes Prohibition Bill. The Ordinance was enacted in July 2011 and came into effect on 1 January 2012.
In response to the theme of World Consumer Rights Day 2012 – "Our Money, Our Rights", the March issue of CHOICE published a report reminding consumers to pay heed to fee and charges when using banking services to avoid unnecessary charges and disputes.
In collaboration with the Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service, the Council's website was enhanced to enable hearing-impaired consumers to access the Supermarket Price Watch and Auto-fuel Price Calculator through a 3G handset.
3 traders were named and publicly reprimanded for unscrupulous sales tactics, namely Modern Digital, Sunshine City, and Q & A+ Health Spa.
In April, the study report "Unfair Terms in Standard Form Consumer Contract" was published, revealing the unfair terms existing in standard form consumer contracts.
The Competition Ordinance, Trade Descriptions (Unfair Trade Practices) (Amendment) Ordinance 2012 and the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance were passed by the Legislative Council, further enhancing the protection of consumer rights.
Following the tragic medical beauty incident in October, the Council actively participated in a steering group to review the related practices of the beauty industry and strongly urged the government to put in place an effective regulatory framework for medical beauty treatment as soon as possible to safeguard consumer safety.
The Council worked with International Consumer Research & Testing (ICRT) and the Occupational Safety and Health Council respectively to conduct tests on suitcases and swivel work chairs; The study report on the MPF Employee Choice Arrangement (ECA) published in CHOICE was well received and the issue had to be reprinted to meet the popular demand.
In November 2012, the Council's Chief Executive Ms Connie Lau, JP retired and was succeeded by Ms Gilly Wong.
Rampant parallel trading activities resulted in shortage of infant formula supply in Hong Kong, leaving some brands severely out of stock. Pharmacies also took advantage of the situation to raise the price. While handling complaints on the acute inflation, the Council urged the industry to ensure a steady and sufficient local supply, and also released the result of a survey on the supply and price of infant formula in January 2014.
A 3-year strategic plan was announced with sustainable consumption becoming an important focus in the future.
A multi-channel publicity educational campaign was launched to raise public awareness on their consumer rights under the newly amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance, as well as to promote the concept of "shopping smart".
A "Grocery Market Study" report was published in December to examine the competition situation in the Hong Kong foodstuffs and household necessities retail sector, as well as evaluating whether major supermarket chains have abused their market power.
The Council identified and named an unscrupulous travel club Carefree Travel (HK) Limited for its persistent failure in honouring its offer of free hotel accommodation, a tactic employed by the club to attract consumers to pay for membership.
In April, the Council and its counterpart in Macau organised the first "Cross-Strait Symposium on Consumer Protection".
The 40th Anniversary cocktail reception was held in April. The then Chief Executive Mr. C.Y. Leung was the Guest of Honour of the event which was attended by nearly 500 distinguished guests, including government officials, business representatives, former Council Chairpersons and Chief Executives, and delegates of consumer bodies. A series of educational programmes were rolled out, including organising the 4 x 10 Comic Exhibition; sponsoring the consumer-related award "The Best Thematic Micro-film Award – Consumption is a matter of..." at the Hong Kong Mobile Film Festival;, and sponsoring the RTHK TV features Metropolitan Consumers, with an aim to explore various consumer protection issues with consumers of different generations.
CHOICE published test reports on anti-wrinkle face creams and honey that received very positive public response. First prints were sold out within days and the issues were reprinted to meet popular demand.
CHOICE Magazine was popularly received by readers at the Hong Kong Book Fair in July, breaking the on-site subscription record with a record-high of over 2,100 new subscribers.
"Birth.hk", an online shop peddling infant products, became the first-ever online trader named by the Council for malpractices detrimental to consumer interests. The Council received a total of 91 consumer complaints involving HK$285,000 against the trader.
The Council published a "Study on the Sales of First-hand Residential Properties" in November which revealed that the sales process was still plagued with various problems despite the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance having become effective for one and a half years.
In December 2014, the Council published an in-depth study report "Search for New Directions – A Study of Hong Kong Electricity Market" , focusing on 3 principal issues: regulation of the Hong Kong electricity market, market liberalisation, and sustainability. A “gradual and progressive reform” was proposed by the Council in June 2015 in response to the "Public Consultation on the Future Development of the Electricity Market". Furthermore, the Council proposed the “Energy Efficiency Obligation” as an effective means to sponsor and encourage households and businesses to reduce energy consumption; and co-hosted the Competition in the Electricity Markets Discussion Forum with the Competition Commission in September, during which experts from Singapore, the European Union, and USA shared insights and experiences across a range of issues.
The Council published the "Auto-fuel Price Monitoring Analysis Report" in February 2015, recommending the Government and oil companies to increase the transparency by releasing more information, such as oil import costs, service station rental and operating costs. The "Diesel Price Calculator" mobile app was launched in the same month to help consumers make informed choices.
The Council introduced the first "Code of Practices of the Laundry Industry" in collaboration with the Laundry Association of Hong Kong in July, with the aim to enhance service quality and professionalism through establishing an effective self-regulatory mechanism within the industry.
The Council submitted recommendations on 2 draft codes, including the "Draft Code of Practice for Holder of Wholesale Poisons Licence" and the "Draft Code of Practice for Holder of Certificate of Registration as an Importer and Exporter of Pharmaceutical Products".
In light of an unscrupulous sales practice by a local pharmacy which enticed a Mainland Chinese tourist into paying HK$39,600 for 2 bottles of China Medical Oil, the Council urged reflection and self-regulation from the industry so as not to damage Hong Kong's reputation as "Shopping Paradise" for self-interest. In August, the Council named and reprimanded 7 drugstores for indulging in unscrupulous sales tactics targeting mainland tourists and harming consumer interests.
In November, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the "World Antibiotic Resistance Awareness Week". The Council swiftly took action and reached out to local fast food chains, calling for a time-bound action plan on phasing out the use of meat and poultry treated with antibiotics for human consumption.
The Competition Ordinance became effective on 14 December. The First Conduct Rule prohibits anti-competitive agreements, such as price-fixing and bid-rigging; the Second Conduct Rule prohibits businesses with a substantial degree of market power from abusing that power to harm competition .
In February 2016, the Council published its first sustainable consumption report titled "Sustainable Consumption for a Better Future – A Study on Consumer Behaviour and Business Reporting" and also organised a conference on this topic for exploring the opportunities and challenges faced while working towards sustainable consumption in Hong Kong.
In support of the theme of World Consumer Rights Day 2016 – "Antibiotics Off The Menu", the Council joined hands with 35 consumer organisations around the world to call on governments and the industry to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance.
In April, the Council named and publicly reprimanded the fitness centre chain California Fitness for deploying intimidating and misleading sales practices to pressurise consumers into purchasing membership and private lessons.
Striding into its 40th year, CHOICE Magazine has generated wide publicity and impact throughout the years which had also helped foster a number of consumer protection legislations. A dedicated Facebook page for CHOICE was also launched in July for a greater publicity coverage.
The study report titled "The Role of Consumer Arbitration in the Alternative Dispute Resolution Regime for Consumer Protection" was published in August, advocating for the establishment of a "Consumer Dispute Resolution Centre" to achieve triple wins in consumer dispute resolution in Hong Kong.
The report "Online Retail – A Study on Hong Kong Consumer Attitudes, Business Practices and Legal Protection" was published in November, looking into the prevalence of online shopping and providing recommendations for consumer protection while shopping online.
In December, the Council published the "Consumer Protection of Medical Beauty Services - A New Regulatory Regime" study report which analysed key issues of concern to consumers using medical beauty services. The report included recommendations that would enhance consumer protection and avoid risks and serious consequences to consumers' well-being arising from the malpractices of medical beauty services.
The December issue of CHOICE published its first-ever test on chicken products and revealed that antimicrobial resistant bacteria was found in over 60% of the samples.
Addressing the issue of excessive borrowing by young consumers, the Council collaborated with the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau for the first time to launch a social media educational campaign. The promotional videos garnered over 2.5 million total views.
In its submission to the Panel of Health Services of the Legislative Council, the Council expressed its support to the Government's proposed regulatory framework for medical devices, including the requirement of compulsory registration of medical devices, licensing of traders, reporting adverse incidents and regulating specific medical devices.
Credit card is one of the most popular forms of payment in Hong Kong. As such, the Council conducted an in-depth study "Consumer Protection on Prepayment and Retailer Insolvency – Review of Chargeback and Beyond" to evaluate how the chargeback mechanism could be enhanced to better protect consumer prepayment in the event of retailer insolvency.
The Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Korea Consumer Agency on 25 May with an aim to strengthen the effectiveness in dealing with rising cross-border consumer disputes. This was the first co-operative agreement the Council has signed with a consumer protection organisation abroad.
Partnered with a TV station for the first time in a series of mini TV segments titled "How to Choose" (點選宅), the Council provided practical information to help consumers make informed choices on a range of popular consumer products.
Jointly published the "Code of Practice of the Jewellery Retail Industry" with the Hong Kong Jewellers' & Goldsmiths' Association and the Kowloon Pearls, Precious Stones, Jade, Gold and Silver Ornament Merchants Association, setting out a clear and comprehensive service standard for the jewellery retail industry of Hong Kong.
The timeshare marketing company Great Time Universal (HK) was publicly named and reprimanded in September for persistently engaging misleading and high-pressure sales techniques in the sales of vacation club memberships.
"Earth 2038's Learning Journey of Sustainable Consumption" was piloted across 10 primary schools in October 2017, and the programme was officially launched in the 2018-19 school year. A total of 3,800 students from 31 primary schools participated in the series of experiential learning activities that aimed to heighten awareness of their values and attitudes as responsible consumers.
With the global phenomenon of E-hailing services, the Council published the study report "More Choices Better Service – A Study of the Competition in the Personalised Point-to-Point Car Transport Service Market" in November. The report looked into the public's opinion of taxi services, and recommended the introduction of a parallel regime consisting of both taxi and E-hailing services to strengthen the service quality of market players through increased competition.
The year's theme was “Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer” with the focus on raising consumer awareness on cyber security issues, such as the excessive collection of personal data by app developers and internet safety.
"A Report to Advocate Mandatory Cooling-off Period in Hong Kong" was published in April, which looked into the inadequacies in voluntary cooling-off provisions and made recommendations on the scope of application and operational arrangements of a mandatory cooling-off regime.
A study report titled "Are Students Protected? An In-depth Look Into Overseas Education Advisory Services" was published in June, the first in-depth study of its kind looking into this industry.
The Council and the National Consumer Affairs Center (NCAC) of Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in June to strengthen the safeguard of the rights and interests of consumers in both territories. This was the Council's second cooperative partnership with its overseas counterpart, following a similar MOU with Korea.
Olympics bronze medalist Ms Sarah Lee Wai Sze graced the cover of the 500th issue of CHOICE in June, her tenacity aptly echoing the determination and effort of CHOICE in protecting consumer rights over the years. A dedicated YouTube channel was launched in the same month, providing consumers with more ways to access the Council's information.
"A Study on Building an Age-friendly Consumption Environment" was published in October, focusing on the rights of ageing consumers.
In November, the Council publicly named and reprimanded the beauty service group Pretty Beauty Centre for various undesirable trade practices that resulted in serious financial loss and mental distress to the aggrieved consumers.
The theme of the 45th anniversary was "Uphold the Spirit of Consumer Protection, Embrace the Future of Technology Innovation", which summed up the Council's vision and role as a consumer watchdog. In May, the "Best Consumer Protection Legislation Advertising Award" was held for the first time, inviting secondary school students to produce their own advertising videos to promote consumer rights and protection among the young generation. A total of 50 teams consisting of 158 students from 30 secondary schools enrolled in the competition.
4 fitness centres were publicly named and strongly reprimanded for targeting inexperienced young consumers with unscrupulous high-pressure sales tactics to coerce them into signing contracts.
The Council's Chief Executive attended the Consumers International World Summit, "The Digital Hive: Putting Consumers at the Heart of Digital Innovation", held in Portugal from 30 April to 1 May, during which she delivered speeches on various occasions and played an active role in discussing and advocating issues on digital consumption.
The Council signed Memoranda of Understanding with 9 mainland municipalities in the Greater Bay Area, further enhancing the cross-border co-operation in consumer protection between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau.
The "Money Lending – Reforming Law and Trade Practices for Consumer Protection" study report was published in September, proposing amendments to the Money Lenders Ordinance and establishing a new sector specific regulator.
The Council published an in-depth study titled "Creating Sustainable Value for Private Health Insurance Market in Hong Kong" that looked into the gaps between consumer expectations and the actual protection offered by the private health insurance they purchased, as well as the lack of continuity of the private health insurance.
36 community talks for senior citizens were organised in collaboration with social service organisations during the year. The Council also partnered with TVB to produce elderly health management themed segments that were broadcast in the TV programme "Revel in Retirement" (無耆不有).
A mobile-friendly Online Price Watch mini-site with enhanced functions was launched in July. New features included "Price Drop Products", "Barcode Scanning", etc. The total page view of Online Price Watch reached a record-high of 10.54 million in the year.
2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the Council's flagship youth education programme, the Consumer Culture Study Award (CCSA), co-organised with the Education Bureau. A celebration and recognition ceremony was held on 2 October and awards were presented to long-standing supporters of CCSA, including adjudicators, participating schools and teachers.
The Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Consumers Association of Singapore, covering the consumer disputes encountered by the travellers between the two cities as well as those arising from online shopping. This was the first MOU signed with a consumer body in Southeast Asia.
In the midst of the social movement and coronavirus pandemic, the monthly press conferences could not be held in the traditional format. To facilitate dissemination of the latest information to the media and public, the press conferences were live-streamed online starting from November. Media submitted enquiries online while citizens benefitted from viewing the conferences in real time via Facebook.
Entering the 2020s, Hong Kong was faced with the unprecedented challenge of the global coronavirus pandemic. To safeguard the health and wellbeing of citizens, the Council proactively tested various anti-epidemic products and condemned unfair trade practices in the sales of anti-epidemic supplies. Live broadcast of the monthly press conferences allowed citizens to acquire the latest consumer information comfortably and safely at home. The Council also enhanced consumer education, using creative communication and activities to strengthen positive consumer awareness and the ability for self-protection among different consumer groups, including the elderly and persons with special needs.
Despite the fact that the Council's Consumer Advice Centres were temporarily closed and staff worked from home in shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council still firmly upheld its commitment to provide services to the public through different channels, including setting up the "Together, We Fight COVID-19" webpage to provide consumer information and free pandemic-related product test reports for download (over 500,000 downloads). Meanwhile, Council staff surveyed the pricing of face masks on the market, and strongly urged traders to be socially responsible by selling the face masks at reasonable prices.
In response to the acute shortage of face masks on the market, a taskforce led by The University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital and joined by the Consumer Council, the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering of the City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, and Hong Kong Science Park, worked together to develop a way to make effective do-it-yourself makeshift face masks using accessible materials at home. The Council produced a video on this DIY mask, which garnered over 180,000 views and was subsequently translated into an English version, attracting viewers from Europe, USA, Japan, etc as well as being covered by overseas media. The Taskforce also advised consumers not to reuse face masks.
The theme of World Consumer Rights Day 2020 was "The Sustainable Consumer". The March issue of CHOICE called on both consumers and manufacturers to make good use of resources. A "Sustainable Consumption Challenge" mini-game was launched in the magazine and on the Council's website to encourage the public to put sustainable consumption behaviours into daily practice.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Council published test reports on disinfectant alcohol and COVID-19 test kits in April, followed by tests on disinfectant cards and badges, and wearable negative ion air purifiers in the months after.
Starting from late October 2019, a series of talks and workshops were conducted to support the participants of the 21st Consumer Culture Study Award. From March 2020, virtual consultation sessions were held to offer advice to participants on their project ideas, content and methodology.
International crude oil prices had dropped sharply to the point that New York crude oil futures recorded a historic low of minus US$40 a barrel in April. However, the auto-fuel price in Hong Kong remained at a high level. The Council published the "Auto-fuel Price Monitoring Analysis 2020" study report in May, analysing the longstanding issues of high auto-fuel price, low transparency, and the allegation of “price-fixing” amongst oil companies.
The Consumer Rights Reporting Awards marked its 20th anniversary. The presentation ceremony was officiated by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, The Honourable Edward Yau Tang-wah, GBS, JP, and the Council Chairman, Mr. Paul Lam Ting-kwok, SC. A total of 40 awards in 7 categories were presented, including the newly-added awards of 2 “20th Anniversary Grand Awards”, 6 “20th Anniversary Honorary Awards”, and 4 “Sustainable Consumption Reporting Awards”.
The brand new “Oil Price Watch” website and mobile app with enhanced functions were launched in November, offering greater convenience to consumers to check auto-fuel retail prices and increasing market information transparency.