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Consumer Website takes cash to silence business complaints

A CONSUMERS' rights protection organization in central China has been accused of making money by hushing up complaints.

Hubei Consumers' Rights and Interests Protection Commission was asking businesses to pay an annual membership of between 8,000 yuan (US$1,170) and 20,000 yuan to have consumer complaints against them blocked on its Website, Shanghai Morning Post reported yesterday.

The commission is a non-government organization supposed to represent and protect consumers' rights and interests by publicizing inferior products and services.

An anonymous manager told the Shanghai Morning Post the commission mailed a document, dated February 20, to his company on March 15, inviting it to become a member of its Website,

According to the document, by paying the annual fee, the company would enjoy nine benefits, including having consumer complaints against them moved off the site.

A complaint posted by a reporter against one of the site's member companies never appeared on the Website.

A senior official with the consumers' commission denied there was a membership fee scheme that stopped complaints, the report said.

Jia Minxiang, secretary general of the commission, said the commission had never asked for a fee from companies nor promised benefits although it did send a membership invitation on February 20.

He said the membership fee details in the document, however, were fake.

Jia said the commission had subcontracted the operation of its Website to a private company, which had no financial relationship with the commission.

But Website workers said there was a membership fee program. Deng Guoxi of Website said the site had already about 200 companies. The fees charged varied. Those with more consumer complaints had to pay higher fees. He said membership was not offered to every company.

He said the Website had returned the fee to one real estate company and canceled its membership because the company had a very poor reputation among consumers.

He said many people, including a deputy provincial governor, had complained about the behavior of the company, which he didn't name, at a housing fair.


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