Consumer protection

In order to protect consumers, the state interferes in the economic processes by legal acts adopted in various fields of law. Besides the fields of civil law (law of contracts, law of torts), administrative law, and criminal law, certain consumer protection related provisions are also in the Competition Act, that are enforced by the GVH or by the courts (private enforcement).

These consumer protection related provisions are in Chapter III of the Competition Act. The most important of them (in Art. 8) prohibits the deception of consumers in economic competition. Another prohibition (in Art. 10) relates to the unjustified restriction of the freedom of consumer choice. By these provisions the Act aims to ensure the fairness of competition, further, in the course of competition, the freedom of consumer choice, as a result of which no market player would acquire unfair advantage in competition.

The deception, in most cases, takes the form of a communication, typically through advertising, albeit any kind of information qualify as communication, e.g. inquiry via telephone, call for participation in lottery, or even a contractual offer if no other information is available about the product. The Competition Act requires the information to be true and accurate both in parts and in its entirety.

The list of practices in the Act is of illustrative nature; thereby the authority is free to intervene whenever it detects any unlawful practices.

  • The most typical cases are when false declarations are made or facts are declared in a manner, which is likely to deceive with respect to prices or essential features of the goods (in particular, the composition, use, effects on health or the environment, as well as their handling, origin or place of origin, source or method of the procurement).

  • The deception may take a passive form, when it is concealed that the goods fail to meet legal or other usual requirements for such goods, or that the use of the goods requires conditions, which are significantly different from what is customary.

  • Beyond these, some other factors may also influence the decision of the consumer. Such other factors are in particular statements about

    • the method of distribution;

    • terms of payment;

    • possible discounts;

    • gifts associated with the goods or the chance of winning.

  • Under circumstances of fair competition, consumers must get precise, clear and objective information on the above factors.

  • Making the objective appraisal of goods or offers or the objective comparison between them and other goods or offers more difficult is deemed, in particular, prohibited. A good example for that is the case where an undertaking claims to grant price reductions without having had a higher -normal- price before.

When choosing between goods or services, a reasonable consumer takes into consideration, first and foremost, the price and the quality of them. These relevant factors might be blurred by statements, promises and "winning" offers that make it difficult for the consumer to arrive at a well-founded decision. The deception always comes along with an unjustifiable restriction of consumers' choice, as the consumers arrive at a decision based on wrong or incomplete information. In the Competition Act a special mention is made on the practice that deliberately makes it difficult to evaluate an offer or to compare the goods or services with similar ones.