Consumer product quality: Parliament takes aim at dual standards

Product Quality 2018

© European Union , 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: François Walschaerts

This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.

If a firm sells a product EU-wide, but with compositions that differ between countries, it must not label and brand it in a seemingly identical way, as this may mislead consumers, say MEPs.

Various tests and surveys done in several EU member states, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe, have proven that products advertised and sold under the same brand and seemingly identical packaging in fact differ in composition and ingredients, to the detriment of consumers.

Such differences were found not only in foods, such as fish fingers, instant soup, coffee and soft drinks, but often also in non-food products, including detergents, cosmetics, toiletries and products intended for babies.

The European Parliament on Thursday recommended several measures at EU and national levels to identify and tackle “dual quality” consumer products.

Cross-border cooperation, comparative tests and better enforcement

MEPs call for, inter alia:

  • swift cross-border cooperation and data-sharing on potentially non-compliant products and possible unfair practices among national consumer protection and food authorities, consumer associations and the EU Commission,
  • a common testing approach to gather reliable and comparable evidence and help ascertain how serious and widespread “dual quality” practices are, and
  • results to be disclosed in a publicly-available database and analysed “no later than by the end of 2018”.

Updating the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive

While welcoming the EU Commission’s April 2018 “New Deal for Consumers” proposal, which amends the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), MEPs point out that it requires further clarification. “The outcome of the legislative process should be a clear definition of what can be considered dual quality and how each case should be assessed and addressed”, they say.

Parliament is, however, “strongly convinced” that an amendment introducing another item on to the ‘blacklist’ of the directive (Annex I, listing the practices prohibited in all circumstances) that explicitly mentions dual quality of identically-branded products when discriminatory and not respecting consumer expectations “would address unjustified cases of dual quality in the most effective way”.

EU-wide logo

“Consumer preferences should not be used as an excuse to lower quality or offer different quality grades on different markets”, Parliament says, reiterating that business operators are permitted to market and sell goods with different composition and characteristics across the EU only where justified by “legitimate factors” and in full compliance with EU laws.

MEPs invite manufacturers to consider including a logo on the packaging that would show that the content and quality of the same brand is the same across EU countries.

Quote

Rapporteur Olga Sehnalová (S&D, CZ) said: “Consumers in different countries complain that they do not enjoy access to the same level of quality when buying branded products. Dual quality products undermine citizens’ confidence in the fair functioning of the EU internal market, and therefore require a solution at EU level. If the product, no matter whether it is a well-known food, drink, cosmetics or detergent, differs even though it appears identical to the consumer, this should be considered an unfair commercial practice. There can be neither second-class products, nor consumers, in the EU.”

Next steps

The recommendations included in the non-legislative resolution drafted by Ms Sehnalová were approved by 464 votes to 69, with 17 abstentions.

The new legislative proposal amending the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (rapporteur Daniel Dalton (ECR, UK)), is expected to be put to a vote in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee in November.

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