Today, fraudulent and deceptive business practices that affect consumers have emerged as a new type of social problem in Korea. There have been many important incidents regarding this problem of late. Many of them have been directly connected to people’s health and lives. The controversies surrounding the sanitary pads that contain carcinogens, the toxic humidifier sterilizer, and the eggs containing pesticides are the prime examples.
▲The Controversy of the Sanitary Pads that Contain Carcinogens
This controversy erupted over possible side effects of Kleannara’s “Lillian” sanitary pads. In March 2017, this controversy was sparked by thousands of reports on the side effects of the sanitary pads. Possible side effects of the sanitary pads came to light during “The Forum on Menstruation Goods for Women’s Health” hosted by a civic group named Women’s Environmental Alliance. The fact that other major companies’ sanitary pads also contained carcinogens was later revealed. In these sanitary pads, carcinogens such dioxin and TVOC were detected, and the safety of high molecule absorbers was also not guaranteed.
▲Oxy Poisoning Scandal
This shocking news made headline in 2016. Because of humidifier disinfectant, 146 people died due to problems with their lungs. Among these victims, 103 people used Oxy Reckitt Benckiser’s sterilizer. However, Oxy did not do anything concerning that incident for five years and only belatedly apologized. The serious problem of this incident was that Korea did not enforce safety measures to test what would happen when people breathe in ingredients of sterilizers, and Korea did not a law that obligates companies to display the names of all ingredients on their products.
▲The Panic Caused by Eggs Containing Pesticides
In August 2017, during an inspection of a Korean eco-friendly egg farm, fipronil was detected in eggs at a farm in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, and levels of bifenthrin that exceeded safety standards were detected at a farm in Gwangju. In addition, fipronil was detected in eggs which were sold at major supermarkets such as E-mart, Homeplus, and Lotte Mart. After a complete enumeration, eggs that were contaminated with pesticides were found on 49 farms and all of the eggs were destroyed.
This is a very dangerous living environment, and it could have been us that were harmed in these incidents. In addition, this danger brings enormous social and economic loss to our society. However, the biggest problem is the fact that there is still much room for improvement. With these problems, here are three factors that cause such fraudulent and deceptive business practices.
Manufacturers who deliberately use institutional loopholes to trick consumers for an unfair advantage are the first factor. In modern society, the Internet, on which any kind of information can easily be obtained, is popularized. However, if consumers do not care about or investigate goods in detail, differences in the amount of information shared between suppliers and consumers in relation to the goods, i.e., information asymmetry, inevitably arise. Therefore, buyers suffer when manufacturers try to make higher profits.
The second factor is policymakers and lawmakers that do not correct institutional loopholes, implement product control, or provide adequate supervision. The government has a responsibility to oversee the activities and products of companies for the rights, interests, and safety of people. In addition, if accidents happen, the government should quickly take action to keep the harm to people to a minimum. It is a human who makes a product, so anybody can make a mistake. The mistake may make small problems in producing goods. But if such problems are repeated several times, a huge accident may happen. However, the role of the government is to prevent mistakes. The government should establish regulations to prevent the production of defective products and ban businesses from selling dangerous goods. But, when the government does not have a decisive attitude, defective and dangerous products can be sold, endangering consumers.
The third and the overall factor is the lack of safety insensitivity. Safety insensitivity is the root cause of the malicious sellers mentioned above and the government’s mistakes regarding supervision and law enforcement. The sellers who make unfair profits exploit the differences in perceived information, and degrade the quality of the parts of their products, thinking consumers will not know it, or replace ingredients with cheap, toxic materials and benefit from this. Government officials also do not carry out precise inspections, acting under the misconception that a certain level of supervision is enough. Consumers' safety is so important that we cannot value it using money. In the case of the above-mentioned involving humidifier disinfectant, it became a huge incident that claimed the lives of over a hundred people. The majority of people’s consciousness about safety has not significantly improved, though.
Now that we are customers, we have indisputable rights to be guaranteed that a product is reliable and helpful to improving our quality of life. The government should enforce punishments if businesses deceive consumers, and the Korea Consumer Agency (KCA) especially should have a stricter process for examining products. Also, concerning goods that are directly related to human health, they should raise the criteria for selling chemical merchandise. Before selling such products, experiments should be conducted at least two times with accurate results. The KCA needs mentally and financially inspire companies to build a good rapport with customers through diverse opportunities such as holding festivals or conventions. Additionally, the KCA needs to obligate businesses to show the list of ingredients, location of production, and producers so that products represent the company, resulting in more responsibility. Such information is sometimes deliberately hidden or rewritten using different names that do not sound harmful.
On top of that, people ought to act for their own rights. People have to take interest in consumer rights activists or websites that can help them. Consumers should be empowered to complain to companies, and companies should be held responsible when they do something wrong. If customers and companies communicate with each other more often, more time will be spent on building trust and there will be fewer conflicts. From an educational point of view, people should know what kind of rights they have and how they can protect them. The same degree of consciousness must apply to producers, too. They should learn to value human life and health more than anything.
In the Korean market, sanitary pads, humidifier disinfectant, and eggs with pesticide problems might only be the tip of the iceberg. The level of trust between customers and domestic companies has fallen, and still customer ombudsmen are failing because they have too much work to handle. It is obvious that to regain the faith of customers, Korean companies need to develop toward becoming globally loved firms.
/ Yujin Jung CP Reporter, Ju-eun Kwon CUP Reporters, Minseong Kim CUP Reporters
Yu-jin Jung, CP Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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