JAPAN

Annual Report on Consumer Policy Developments
1999

 

I. Budget for consumer-related policies

The budgets for consumer policy for the fiscal years 1998 and 1999 are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Japan: Outline of budget for consumer policy
JPY 1 000

Item FY1998 FY1999

Prevention of injury

8 751 628

8 130 306

Accurate weight measurement

2 106

1 935

Standardisation

1 173 058

1 224 629

Proper labelling

657 712

493 890

Securing of fair competition

524 179

580 448

Proper and fair contract terms

238 602

236 370

Consumer education

4 428 582

3 628 250

Reflection of consumer opinions

384 427

259 417

Improvement of test and inspection facilities

166 851

176 558

Improvement of complaint handling system

1 345 376

1 019 047

Organising of consumers

90 000

96 027

Other

6 596 756

7 196 673

The Japan Consumer Information Center (JCIC)

     ( 2 717 226)

    (2 699 869)

Promotion of consumer policies at local level

( 383 866)

(383 876)

TOTAL

24 359 277

23 043 550

II. Physical protection (product safety)

Product liability

The Product Liability Law came into force on 1 July 1995. Various measures are being currently promoted, including improvement of an alternative dispute resolution system, preparation of a cause investigation system, strengthening of the gathering and provision of information relating to product accidents, and improvement of product safety education to make effective the protection and relief from consumer injury and harm.

Food products

To ensure food safety, the following regulations exist in accordance with the Food Sanitation Law: i) the control of sale and manufacture of food products and food additives; ii) the establishment of standards, specifications, and labelling requirements for these products; and iii) the control of facilities, such as restaurants. Inspections are conducted and the observation measures necessary for these regulations are taken.

To ensure the safe production of farm products, forestry products, stock farm products, and marine products, agricultural chemicals and feed are regulated.

The Government of Japan has implemented the following measures to prevent food-borne diseases: i) access to information of precautionary measures via the Internet and government official reports; ii) the implementation of sanitation control of food business facilities; iii) the production and spread of manuals on sanitation control of large preparation facilities and on prevention of food poisoning for families.

In accordance with the Food Sanitation Law, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) sets maximum residue limits for agricultural chemicals in agricultural products. The maximum residue limits for 199 agricultural chemicals have been set for approximately 130 agricultural products (March 1999). The Agricultural Chemicals Regulation Law sets standards for withholding registration on crops for 345 agricultural chemicals (March 2000). The Agricultural Chemicals Regulation Law also sets direction for safe use of agricultural chemical of 162 (March 2000) of the agricultural chemicals whose maximum residue limits are fixed by the Food Sanitation Law and registered in Japan, and also sets guidelines for the use of other agricultural chemicals.

MHW prudently and adequately decides whether the safety assessment of foods and food additives produced by recombinant DNA techniques complies with the Guidelines.

MHW implements research on food allergies and the development of foods exempted from allergens.

To promote the effective measure of dioxins, a re-evaluation of TDI, an introduction to laboratory programmes including training courses, and research programmes on the effects on human health, are underway.

Pharmaceutical products

To ensure the quality, efficacy, and safety of drugs, quasi-drugs, cosmetics, and medical instruments, manufacturing (imports) and selling are regulated by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.

Manufacturing and import of drugs are approved after rigid examination for efficacy and safety. Basically, six years after the approval of a new drug, the efficacy and safety of the drug are re-examined and then re-evaluated every five years.

For drugs, MHW has established GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) regulation to assure the quality of the products.

MHW makes efforts to collect adverse drug reaction reports from many sources and systems, such as: i) an adverse reaction reporting system; ii) reports from drug manufacturers; and iii) WHO International Drug Monitoring Programme, and makes the reports available to medical personnel after evaluation.

In June 1994, provisions related to medical devices in the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law were amended to enhance post-marketing measures, to promote appropriate use, and to establish the GMP regulation. The amended provisions came into force on 1 July 1995.

Consumer products

The Consumer Product Safety Law, which implements safety measures for consumer products, regulates manufacturers and sales companies to prevent the distribution of hazardous products with the mandatory S-mark system. And the Consumer Product Safety Association instituted by this law manages an SG-mark voluntary system which combines the confirmation of the conformity to their standards and the insurance measures awarded for the damage, and which promotes private-sector voluntary efforts to ensure and improve product safety. The number of specified products by the SG-mark system was 117 as of March 2000.

The Consumer Product Safety Law was amended in August 1999. The amendment included abandonment of governmental certification and introduction of third-party certification and other reviews. It will enter into force in October 2000.

Recall systems

In Japan, two product safety laws provide for obligatory recall on the orders of the relevant ministers: the Consumer Products Safety Law and the Law for the Control of Household Products Containing Harmful Substances. Two recalls have been ordered under the Consumer Products Safety Law. Voluntary recalls, moreover, have been implemented by both manufacturers and distributors.

The Ministry of Transport (MOT), in accordance with the Road Vehicle Act, sets technical standards both to ensure the safety of road vehicles and to protect the environment. Moreover, as for the recall system for road vehicles introduced in 1969, new requirements were stipulated under the revised Road Vehicle Act. That is, that motor vehicle manufacturers, etc. are obliged to give prior notice to the Minister of Transport. MOT can urge them to implement recalls if necessary, and if no corrective actions are taken, penalties pursuant to the Law are imposed on the violator. This new recall system helps to promote greater safety and environmental protection by preventing accidents and other situations.

III. Protection of consumer economic interest

Door-to-door and other sales

With regard to door-to-door sales, mail order sales, telephone-solicited sales "continuous services" businesses and chain sales transactions, the Door-to-Door Sales and Other Direct Sales Law has been strictly enforced. This law was amended in April 1999 to regulate "continuous service" businesses, such as the aesthetics business and the foreign language school business.

With regard to electronic commerce, MITI, in May 1999, in view of the publicity surrounding the law, examined and sent warning messages to Internet mail- order sellers that had not obeyed the obligation about the advertisement by the Door-to-Door Sales and Other Direct Sales Law.

Financial transactions

With respect to the protection of information relating to individuals, the Interim Report on Protection and Utilisation of Consumer Credit Data was published in July 1999 by the working group jointly organised by the Financial System Council, the Industrial Structure Council, and the Credit Sales Council.

In November 1991, the upper limit on the interest rate of a loan (interest rates over the limit being punishable according to the law concerning the Regulation of Receiving of Capital Subscription, Deposit and Interest on Deposits) was lowered to 40.004%, and the authorities have been maintaining strict control over infringements of interest rate limits.

In December 1999, the law concerning the regulation of a loan service, which implements the lowering of the upper limit on the interest rate of a loan to 29.2%, was established and was supposed to come into force since June 2000.

Other

To protect consumers from fraudulent commercial practices, the crackdown has been strengthened throughout the country in settled period every year. Also, educational activities that are effective in preventing consumers from being damaged by such practices take effort.

In March 1997, MITI formulated the Guidelines Concerning the Protection of Computer Processed Personal Data in the Private Sector ( Notification of MITI No. 98 ). MITI has provided advice to business organizations concerned including the Japan Consumer Credit Industry Association to establish or revise guidelines for each industry sector based on the notification. In February 1998, MITI formulated its "Explanatory Document for the Guidelines", which was distributed to consumers and businesses.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry established the JIS (Japan Industrial Standard) entitled "Requirements for Compliance Program on Personal Information Protection" in March 1999 to standardize the level of protection of personal data in companies.

IV. Consumer information and education

Labelling

Standards of food labelling concerning the Food Sanitation Law are under review in "Sub-Committee on Food Labelling in Food Sanitation Council." MHW will take appropriate measures, taking into account the responses to the results of discussions on it.

A mandatory quality labelling standards system and a voluntary Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) system are being implemented under the Law concerning Standardization and Proper Labelling of Agricultural and Forestry Products (JAS Law). As of March 2000, there were a total of 353 JAS standards.

To help consumers select products, Japan revised the JAS Law in July 1999, with a view to requiring that all items of foods and beverages supplied for general consumers be subject to the quality labelling standards. And also under the revised JAS Law, organically produced agricultural products after inspection and certification by a fair third party are only allowed to be labelled "organic."

Regarding GM food products for which safety has been confirmed, in order to provide product choice to consumers and to protect their interests, the government is scheduled to set a new labelling standard and to make labelling mandatory from April 2001.

The Industrial Standardisation Law aims to improve the quality of mineral and industrial products, to raise production efficiency, and to ensure fair and simplified trade through the establishment of common standards that unify form, dimension, and quality, and methods of manufacturing, using, testing, and inspecting. To achieve these aims, Japan Industrial Standards (JIS) have been established and the JIS-marking system is being conducted based on this law. As of March 1999, approximately 190 consumer goods are covered by the JIS-marking system; products that conform to the JIS standards can bear the JIS-mark.

The Household Goods Quality Labelling Law regulates the labelling of the quality of household goods. The labelling helps consumers in choosing goods and using them. The law aims to protect consumers by fair labelling. The regulated goods are designated in consideration of consumers' difficulties and the necessity of knowing the quality of the goods. As of March 2000, 90 goods have been designated.

The "Online Trust Mark" system, which indicate the reliability of the companies' websites, will be started by The Japan Direct Marketing Association and The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in spring 2000.

The "Privacy Marks Award System", in which companies adequately handling personal data based on the MITI guidelines have been granted the right to use the "Privacy Marks", was started by the Japan Information Processing Development Center in April 1998. This system helps consumers to easily distinguish the companies' level of protection of personal data.

Under the Housing Quality Assurance Act, which is scheduled to be enacted on the 1 April, all contractors and sellers of new houses will be enforced to take ten years liability for major defects.

In addition, under the law a common criteria for evaluating and indicating the performance of houses will be established; evaluating bodies that will conduct the evaluation in accordance with the criteria will be designated by the Ministry of Construction. Alternative dispute resolution system for houses evaluated by these bodies will also be established.

Comparative testing

The Japan Consumer Information Center (JCIC) conducted comparative tests in FY1999 on 12 products, including APS cameras. Results of these tests were published in the Center's publication Tashikana Me (Critical Eyes).

The Japan Consumers' Association conducted comparative tests on the quality and performance of 12 products, including colour TVs, in FY 1999. It also conducted simple tests on new products. The results were published in Gekkan Shohisha (the monthly consumer magazine) and other publications.

Since 1996 MOT, in cooperation with the National Organization for Automotive Safety and Victims’ Aid (OSA), has conducted comparative safety tests for automobiles, including the frontal impact and other tests, and has published both the results of tests and the right use of safety devices as "The Japan New Car Assessment" to automobile users.

Advisory services

At the central government level, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) has 64 offices at its headquarters, as well as local branches that handle complaints and consultations; MITI has ten such offices, and MOT has eleven. MAFF handled 12 588 complaints in FY1998. In FY1998, MITI handled 7 680 complaints; MOT handled 3 077 complaints. The Management and Co-ordination Agency has provided administrative consultation services nationwide and has made efforts to protect consumer interests in resolving disputes over goods and services.

Consumer centers are operated by local governments for the purpose of handling consumer complaints, educating consumers, and testing products. As of April 1999, there were a total of 412 consumer centers in Japan (159 at the prefectural level and 253 at the municipal level). These centers have contributed to the implementation of consumer policy at the local level.

Other information activities

JCIC and the local consumer centers provide information to consumers, with a view to improving quality of life, through various means, including periodicals, exhibitions, lectures, Internet, and the mass media.

MITI provides information to consumers on the safety of goods, quality of goods, and services and contract terms through television and pamphlets, so that consumers can make informed choices with regard to goods and consumer services and thus improve their living standards.

In 1988, on the twentieth anniversary of the enactment of the Consumer Protection Fundamental Act, the Japanese government decided to designate May as "Consumer Month". The Economic Planning Agency (EPA) carries out various activities for Consumer Month, using a different theme each year. Activities include the National Conference on Consumer Problems, distribution of posters and handbooks, and publicity activities using newspapers, television, and other media.

As described in The Basic Environmental Plan, the government informs citizens about specific things they can do to protect and improve the environment and gives appropriate advice to the body that operates the environmental label programme. In addition, the government promotes green purchasing and implements efforts to increase government purchase of green products and services. Through these policies, the government encourages consumers to incorporate environmental considerations into their purchasing decisions.

Consumer education

In accordance with the Courses of Study, consumer education has been carried out throughout the elementary, lower secondary, and upper secondary school levels mainly in subjects like social studies and home economics in such ways that are appropriate to children’s stages of development. In 1998 and 1999, the Ministry of Education revised the Courses of Study with a view to adapting educational systems and contests to changes in society. As a result, the content of consumer education was improved. The new Courses of Education will be implemented in the year 2002 at the elementary and lower secondary levels and phased in from the year 2003 at the upper secondary level.

Consumer leaders play leading roles in local consumer activities and consumer education; these roles have become more important as society has developed. Consequently, prefectures, designated cities, and JCIC have been making efforts to train consumer leaders by offering instruction and further education.

To promote consumer education, the Consumer Education Assistance Center was established in February 1990 under the joint auspices of EPA and MOE. The activities of the Center include research, conducting seminars and symposia, designing instructor manuals and teaching materials, and establishing international and domestic information networks.

V. Redress and complaint procedures

Most consumer complaints regarding goods and services are handled through negotiations between consumers and enterprises, such as shops, selling agencies, and distributors. JCIC and local government consumer information centers handled 626 640 complaints in FY1998.

The Consumer Product Safety Association gives approval to affix the SG-mark on a product when the product conforms to the standard. When an accident is caused by a defective product bearing the SG-mark, the consumer is entitled to compensation under the remedy system. In FY1998, 38 cases received compensation. As of March 2000, 117 products carry the SG-mark.

VI. Relations between consumer policy and other aspects of government policy

Competition policy

The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) has been making efforts to enforce strictly the Anti-monopoly Act to maintain and promote fair and free competition. When violations of the Anti-monopoly Act occur, the FTC takes actions such as legal measures (e.g. recommendations) to cease-and-desist illegal activities. In FY1999 (as of February 2000), 24 legal measures had been handed down.

The FTC has taken action, such as cease-and-desist orders and warnings against excessive premium offers or misleading representations pursuant to the Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations. In FY1999 (as of March 2000), cease-and-desist orders related to premiums totaled four; the number related to representations was two. In FY1999 (as of February 2000), 94 warnings relating to premiums were issued; the number relating to representations was 144.

The Fair Competition Code, a set of voluntary rules that regulates excessive premiums and false representations in business circles, has been established and operated in the interest of consumers. As of February 2000, 48 codes on premiums and 68 codes on representation had been approved by the FTC.


Latest update 25 January 2001

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