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Brussels, 10 December 2001

David Byrne welcomes breakthrough in helping consumers shop online with confidence

Consumer Protection and Health Commissioner David Byrne today welcomed the breakthrough agreement between consumer and business representatives on good business practice for selling to consumers online. Consumers are still wary of shopping online and cannot easily identify the protection they are seeking from among the proliferation of different online codes and trustmarks. The agreement presented to Commissioner Byrne today paves the way for a common European standard that will enable consumers and businesses to take full advantage of electronic commerce in Europe and to make better use of the Internal market.

"This agreement between consumer and business representatives is a breakthrough in enabling consumers to shop online with confidence" said David Byrne when meeting a delegation of the European consumers' organisation BEUC and the Union of Industrial and Employers Confederations of Europe UNICE. "By establishing a common European standard for good business practice in dealing with consumers online, we will create an easy and user-friendly way for consumers to identify websites that they can buy from with confidence. This shows how consumers and businesses can work together to achieve common goals. This agreement will provide a solid basis for a Commission Recommendation that I hope to see adopted in the coming months." The director of BEUC, Jim Murray agreed that "the proposed scheme should enable consumers to identify more easily which websites they can trust". Eric Jonnaert, chairman of UNICE's Consumer/Marketing working group, said "the UNICE-BEUC joint input is a breakthrough not only because we have agreed on a framework which would promote consumer confidence in e-commerce but also because it opens up new possibilities for industry and consumer collaboration in the future for appropriate topics."

A stakeholders' meeting in April reached broad agreement on standards for good practice and on the need for an approval and monitoring structure involving an effective form of third-party assessment. However, further elaboration of the details was required and BEUC and UNICE have now completed this. The standards agreed cover issues such as commercial communications and fair marketing practices, pre-contractual information, confirming and acknowledging orders, payment and security, data protection, handling complaints and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. They are coupled with an effective monitoring and approval system including neutral third party assessment of trustmark schemes to ensure that commitments to these standards are met in practice. The next steps will be for the stakeholders together with the Commission to make sure that all the right elements are in place to put the scheme into practice.

The Commission's e-confidence initiative was launched by Commissioner Byrne in May 2000. It was designed to tackle the lack of consumer confidence in e-commerce. Consumers are still wary of shopping online, with less than 2% of retail sales being made online. Consumers are concerned about issues such as getting the right information about what they want to buy, the privacy of data they supply, delivery of their purchases and how to seek redress if something goes wrong. Whilst there are many codes, trustmarks and other schemes attempting to address these issues, their sheer number and variety make it difficult for consumers to decide whether they can be confident about dealing with any particular site. The e-confidence initiative therefore brought together a wide range of stakeholders in order to find a workable solution, including consumer and business representatives, internet service providers, representatives of national schemes, individual companies and academics.

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