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EU consumer groups challenge Alibaba over shopper’s rights

Alibaba (Getty)

Alibaba Group is facing complaints from European consumer groups around its online retail platform AliExpress, over alleged unfair contract terms and practices for users in the EU, which potentially breach EU law.

The consumer organisations are based in six countries including Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and France and are represented by the European Consumer Organisation’s (BEUC) network. The group has written to the Consumer Protection Cooperation network urging them to investigate AliExpress’ terms and to take action to stop them.

Monique Goyens, director general of the BEUC, said: “Consumer rights are essential so that people are protected if something goes wrong after or during a purchase. If Alibaba targets consumers in the EU market, it has no choice but to respect EU consumer rules. If it does not, it’s up to national authorities to step in and make it comply.

“We call on the consumer protection authorities to look urgently into this issue and to take action. Online platforms linking sellers from outside Europe are more and more popular, but respecting consumer rights is not negotiable.”

BEUC has said AliExpress terms and conditions for contracts with EU consumers are very unclear making it difficult for consumers to find meaningful legal information.

The BEUC has suggested the most serious problem is in regards to clauses about disputes that may arise between consumers and sellers on the platform. AliExpress states that if no amicable settlement is found between seller and consumers, the dispute must go to a Hong Kong arbitration court, which is a breach of EU law. Consumers have a right to take legal action before a court in their own country.

Other problematic terms in the contract include consumers not being allowed to return a good without any justification within 14 days. This is a right across the EU.

Also, the BEUC said it is not easy to find a reference to a manufacturer’s warranty and the seller’s obligation to provide a minimum two-year legal guarantee is not mentioned. Plus, terms and conditions are not always provided in the national language.

A Luxembourg consumer group has already lodged a complaint with its national authorities earlier this year and the German consumer federation is also considering taking legal action against AliExpress/Alibaba.