Annual Report on Consumer Issues

I. Introduction

In 1965, the Federal Council (government) created the Federal Office for Consumer Affairs. This body acts as a link between the federal administration and consumer organisations, business and industry. It is also in charge of the Secretariat of the Federal Consumer Affairs Commission, made up of 22 members. The Office analyses consumer policy in Switzerland and abroad, advises on all matters related to consumer policy and provides the public and the media with information about consumer protection.

For further information about the Federal Office for Consumer Affairs, the Federal Consumer Affairs Commission and consumer bodies in Switzerland, please consult the Internet site www.consommation.admin.ch (also available at www.konsum.admin.ch or www.consumo.admin.ch).

II. Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999

On 18 April 1999, the people and cantons of Switzerland adopted a new Federal Constitution, superseding that of 1874. The new Constitution entered into force on 1 January 2000. The article dealing with consumer protection is worded as follows:

Article 97 Consumer protection

1. The Confederation shall take measures designed to protect consumers.

2. It shall legislate on the rights of recourse of consumer bodies. In those fields covered by legislation dealing with unfair competition, consumer bodies shall enjoy the same rights as occupational and economic bodies.

3. The cantons shall provide for a conciliation procedure or a simple and expeditious judicial procedure for matters where the amount in dispute does not exceed a specified level, to be set by the Federal Council.

III. Federal Acts and Ordinances

a) Ordinance of 23 December 1999 on protection against non-ionising radiation

This entered into force on 1 February 2000. The purpose is to protect humans against harmful or adverse non-ionising radiation. Its provisions include limits on emissions from electric and magnetic fields generated by static installations within a frequency range of 0 Hz to 300 GHz (radiation); determination and evaluation procedures; and requirements with regard to the definition of building land.

b) Foodstuffs Ordinance of 1 March 1995

The Ordinance was amended on 14 June 1999. The Federal Council approved the introduction of a threshold from which genetically modified organisms present in foodstuffs must be listed on the labelling. Henceforward, when a foodstuff contains an ingredient including over 1% of GMOs, the latter’s presence must be mentioned on the labelling. The introduction of the threshold means that traditional products and organic products containing traces of genetically modified material do not have to be labelled as GM. This amendment entered into force on 1 July 1999.

c) Display of Prices Ordinance

This was amended on 28 April 1999, on the recommendation of the Federal Consumer Affairs Commission. The actual price to be paid for certain services, in sectors such as hairdressing, catering and hotels, beauty parlours, etc., must be clearly and legibly displayed for the consumer. The amendment supplemented the list of services covered to include: fitness centres, swimming pools, skating rinks and other sports facilities; offers of teaching or instruction; package tours; services related to travel reservations which are invoiced separately (booking, agencies); telecommunications services except where, with mobile equipment, use is made of the services of other providers abroad (roaming); value-added services relating to telecommunications, such as information, advisory, marketing and cost-sharing services, except where, using mobile equipment, use is made of the services of other providers abroad (roaming); opening, holding and closing accounts, national and international payments, means of payment (credit cards), purchase and sale of foreign exchange; part-time use of real estate. The amendments entered into force on 1 November 1999.

IV. The Information Society

The Federal Council (government) has established an Information Society Co-ordinating Group to consider strategies to shape and accompany the information revolution in Switzerland. The Consumer Affairs Office is involved in the Co-ordinating Group and is more particularly examining the implications of business to business (B2B) electronic commerce for consumers. See also the Internet site www.isps.ch.

V. Recommendations of the Federal Consumer Affairs Commission

The Federal Consumer Affairs Commission issued two recommendations on 7 December 1999, dealing with electronic commerce and remote selling. In particular it calls on the Federal Council (government) to amend the relevant provisions of the general section of the Code on Contractual Obligations (electronic signature, consumers’ right to information, right to withdraw and right of return) on the basis of the European Union directives in preparation. For further information, please consult the Office’s site, at the address given above.

VI. Matters pending in 1999

The Federal Consumer Affairs Office examined a large number of matters, in particular declarations of provenance for meat, drink packaging, toxic substances, medicine, health insurance, private insurance, radio and television, energy and electricity, consumer credit, telecommunications and electronic signatures.

It has also drafted reports on labelling and the general safety of consumer products. Finally, in December 1999, it was actively involved in implementing the OECD guidelines on consumer protection in electronic commerce.

Latest update 25 January 2001

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