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March 15, 2012

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Expats shrug off consumer gripes

THERE have been far fewer consumer complaints from expats in Shanghai, which authorities attribute to the language barrier and poor publicity of the hotline service.

Compared to the huge number of complaints received from Chinese consumers - more than 111,000 - the city's consumer rights hotline 12315 only received 18 complaints from expats last year. China marks Consumer Rights Day today.

The city had more than 200,000 overseas residents at the end of 2010, according to the country's latest population census.

This does not mean that expats don't encounter consumer disputes. According to the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau, expats' complaints cover a wide range of problems, including public transport services, flights, food safety and apartment rent. But for various reasons, they won't call the hotline but try to solve the problem via other means, like legal action, or stay silent.

An American man who preferred to stay anonymous said he once called the hotline to complain about an airline company over ticket refund, but the operator hung up as soon as he spoke English. "I had to give up and asked my Chinese friends for help," the American said, adding that he believed the operator couldn't speak English.

Another expat, Obed, a Kenyan studying at Shanghai University, claimed he was not even aware of any hotline for consumers. "So if I had some consumer rights problems, I would just let it go," he said.

The Shanghai Commission for Consumers' Rights and Interests Protection admitted the hotline is not known among expats but officials still have no plans to promote the service. "We accept English complaints, but we don't have a special platform for them," said Zhao Jiaoli, an official with the commission.

Zhao said several operators at the hotline speak English, but only one is an English major.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision said its hotline 12365, which accepts complaints about product quality and food safety, has seldom received complaints from foreigners despite opening an English service several years ago. The officials said this was "quite normal" because the bureau has never promoted the hotline's English service.

In fact, some Chinese consumers have complained that the hotline was difficult to access.


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