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Public interest suit filed to claim compensation for consumers

By Li Wenfang in Guangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-14 07:40

Guangdong Consumer Council has filed the country's first public interest lawsuit to request compensation in the field of consumption.

The lawsuit is requesting compensation for the consumption of meat from sick and dead pigs, and of pork preserved using hazardous liquid.

On behalf of consumers, the council is requesting compensation of more than 10 million yuan ($1.44 million) from the 20 defendants, as well as an apology through mainstream media and payment of lawyers' and litigation fees.

The 20 defendants were seized in Huizhou and Shenzhen in a joint operation by police in Shenzhen's Longgang district and the city's market supervisory authority in 2015.

Public interest suit filed to claim compensation for consumers

Longgang district procuratorate prosecuted the defendants on criminal charges last year, with the second trial of the case currently underway.

Considering the serious harm to consumers and the adverse impact on society, the council filed the lawsuit on March 8 at the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court, the council said in a statement.

Public interest litigation is practiced in the fields of environmental protection and consumption in China.

Since 2014, when the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests was amended, consumer organizations across the country have filed public interest litigations, all of which aimed only to stop criminal practices. None of the cases were accepted by courts or were withdrawn due to settlement agreements, except one, which lead to a public apology.

"We believe that public interest litigation is an effective way to target individual offenders and businesses," the council said.

The compensation value was reached by calculating the revenue earned from selling the meat of sick or dead pigs.

If the council wins the case, it will divide the compensation out among the victims in this case, said Yang Shu'na, deputy secretary-general of the council.

If a victim fails to claim their compensation or there is a surplus, the money will be handed to the State coffer or a public interest fund for the protection of consumer rights.

Pork is the most commonly eaten meat in China. Despite a heavy crackdown by the government to address the issue of substandard meat, some businesses, driven by financial benefit, continue to evade supervision, said Zhu Lieyu, director of Guangdong Guardian Law Firm, who serve as the attorney in this case.

Consumers are not often aware of the quality of the pork they consume, which makes it difficult for them to safeguard their rights, Zhu said.

This is a landmark case, which will boost the public interest litigation system regarding consumption, Zhu said.

Zhang Yingshu contributed to this story.

(China Daily 03/14/2017 page7)

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