Consumer bodies seek to force Alibaba portal to honor EU shoppers' rights

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Consumer bodies from Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain on Friday urged their national consumer protection agencies to act against Alibaba’s online shopping portal for allegedly setting unfair terms for EU users.

A logo of Alibaba Group is seen at an exhibition during the World Intelligence Congress in Tianjin, China May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The complaints against Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s AliExpress echoed a similar grievance by the Luxembourg consumer body to its national authority earlier this year which wants the issue to be tackled on a European level.

The consumer groups want online shopping portal AliExpress, which sells goods from Chinese retailers and competes with U.S. online retailer Amazon, to comply with EU laws protecting consumers.

“We call on the consumer protection authorities to look urgently into this issue and to take action,” European consumer body BEUC’s director general Monique Goyens said in a statement.

“Online platforms linking sellers from outside Europe are more and more popular, but respecting consumer rights is not negotiable,” she said.

The six bodies, which are part of BEUC’s network, are concerned about a clause in AliExpress’ terms and conditions which refers disputes between a seller and a buyer to a Hong Kong arbitration court.

EU rules say EU consumers have a right to take legal action before a court in their own country.

Another worry is that consumers cannot return goods without any justification within 14 days, again in breach of EU laws. The seller’s obligation to provide a minimum two-year legal guarantee is not mentioned while terms and conditions are not always spelled out in the national language of the country.

“We respect and endeavor to comply with all applicable rules and regulations in the markets in which we operate,” said an Alibaba spokesman, in response to news of the complaint.

“We also respect the rights of consumers and we are paying close attention to these concerns.”

Alibaba will study the complaint when the company receives it, the spokesman said, and engage in discussions with the consumer protection commission.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Tom Hogue