New European and Belgian mediation platforms are launched

New EU rules require Belgian and European websites for alternative dispute resolution and online dispute resolutionall webshop to display a link to the newly created Belgian and European websites for alternative dispute resolution and online dispute resolution. Following this new law, SafeShops.be will from now on also require its members to add the necessary mentions to their website.

Consumer protection in the EU

Online retailers are confronted with a lot of legal obligations that were put in place to protect consumers. There is the 14 day cooling off period, the obligation to deliver in time, the 2 year legal warranty period, uncountable information obligations, …

Sirius Legal and our partner SafeShops.be have always strongly supported all consumer protection initiatives. We believe that strong consumer protection legislation will automatically result in more trust in e-commerce, in higher sales and in a fair competition climate. Online consumer protection may also be an active tool for webshops to compete with offline retailers. Consumer protection in distance sales creates a level playing field with classic offline retailers in the sense that it compensates for the absence of personal interaction between buyer and seller, knowing that it is exactly that personal contact that creates trust in a “classic” transaction.

Whereas the European Union and national Belgian and other governments have worked hard on creating a solid consumer protection framework over the past decades, practice has shown that consumers very often do not know their rights and, more importantly, even if they know their rights in many cases do not bother to insist upon having those rights respected by online retailers.

Especially in cross border transaction and where relatively small amounts of money are concerned, consumers quite frankly do not bother to claim reimbursement, compensation or any other form of intervention by the seller. The reason, according to the European Union, is simple: the cost for a consumer to seek and final legal assistance and to start up proceedings against an unwilling retailer is in most cases higher than the value of his purchase, especially in cross border disputes.

New websites for national and international alternative dispute resolution

This is why the European Union has recently created two brand new tools that will in the future offer to consumers a fast, easy and cheap access to (out of court) dispute resolution, with on the one hand the Alternative Dispute Resolution directive for purely national disputes and on the other hand the Online Dispute resolution regulation that will offer assistance for cross border disputes between online retailers and consumers.

We have already announced during a few presentations and articles last year that the Belgian government had transposed the EU Alternative Dispute Directive into Belgian law. This new law created in 2015 a new mediation and arbitration service within the FOD Economie (the “Consumentenombudsdienst” or “COD”) that aims specifically at making alternative dispute resolution accessible to (online) consumers. Consumers are now able to file complaint with this COD, which will in its turn transfer the complaint to one of a number of recognized mediation and arbitration institutions (Eg. Geschillencommissie Reizen, Geschillencommissie Bouw, -Geschillencommissie Meubel, Ombudsdienst Telecom, …). These institutions will in turn try to mediate or arbitrate the dispute under their own regulations with, in principle, a final decision within 90 days.

As of January 2016 this system is completed with a European platform website that will interconnect all 28 national “COD” authorities throughout the union. Consumers will now be able to file a complaint through a EU portal website in their own language. The complaint will subsequently be transferred to the relevant national “COD”, which will mediate or arbitrate under its own regulations (or under those of the recognized mediation and arbitration institutions in that country.
The entire system should guarantee to consumers that they will have easy, quick and cheap access too assistance if a purchase from a (foreign) website turns wrong. This in turn should help increase consumer trust and should help eliminate impediments to cross border trade and help the development of a true digital single market in Europe.

How does this concern your webshop?

Now, why is all of this important to SafeShops.be members, apart from the obvious fact that all online retailers should be aware of the existence of these ADR and ODR rules?

Well, EU and Belgian law require sellers to provide a clear link to both the Belgian Consumentenobudsdienst website and the EU ODR website on their own webshop pages. And this as of 1 January 2015. Sellers that do not provide the above link could face enforcement actions by the Economic Inspection services. SafeShops is therefore requesting and urging all of its label holders to make the necessary changes to their website as soon as possible. The required mentions will also be part of both initial legal screening as annual label renewal screening for all SafeShops.be members.

The EU Commission urges sellers to display the link by 15 February at the latest. It is however still unclear how exactly these links should be displayed. We have chosen, based on the content of the EU regulation and directive, and after discussion with all other EU e-commerce label organizations member of EMOTA that webshops should be compliant by displaying the link at least under terms and conditions.

We are therefore requested all of our members to add the following text to their general terms of sale:

“Bij buitengerechtelijke regeling van het geschil is de Consumentenombudsdienst van de FOD Economie bevoegd om elke aanvraag tot buitengerechtelijke regeling van consumentengeschillen te ontvangen. Deze zal op haar beurt de aanvraag ofwel zelf behandelen ofwel doorsturen naar een gekwalificeerde entiteit. U kan de Consumentenombudsdienst bereiken via deze link: https://www.consumentenombudsdienst.be//nl .
Bij geschillen met een grensoverschrijdend karakter kan u bovendien beroep doen op het Online Dispute Resolution platform van de Europese Unie via deze link: https://ec.europa.eu/odr ”.

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