In the course of our work, we often hear about consumers in Thailand lodging complaints with the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB) about problems with a purchased product or service.
The OCPB is a government agency attached to the Office of the Prime Minister. Its main duties are to protect consumers in Thailand with respect to product advertising, product labeling, and contracts, and to handle consumer complaints.
However, there are exceptions to the types of consumer complaints that the OCPB can handle. This is because some consumer complaints must by law be handled by certain specialized agencies. Examples of these exceptions include consumer complaints relating to:
- health products (food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, household dangerous substances, and narcotics);
- medical services;
- pricing of consumer products;
- condominium juristic person;
- public land;
- rail, water, and air transportation;
- banking and finance;
- telecommunications; and
- electricity and water consumption.
When a consumer complaint that the office can accept comes to the OCPB, the officers first consider whether the business operator has violated any laws, in which case the relevant authorities, such as the police, should handle the matter.
When the officers consider it appropriate, they may ask the parties to mediate the dispute. Complaints in Bangkok are mediated by officers at the Bangkok OCPB. For complaints lodged in other provinces, the governors of the provinces may assign officers or agencies under their supervision to mediate.
The OCPB can mediate twice within 90 days. If the parties still want to continue with the mediation, a subcommittee of the Consumer Protection Board (CPB)—the body that directs the OCPB—will then conduct two more mediation sessions within 90 days. If a resolution is still not reached, the subcommittee can conduct one additional mediation session before declaring the mediation failed and ending the complaint process. At this point, if the CPB determines that the case involves a matter of public interest (such as a case involving a product or service widely used by the public), the CPB could proceed with filing a case on behalf of the consumer. However, if the CPB declines to proceed in this manner, it would be up to the consumer to bring a case on his or her own.
If the mediation is successful, the officers then prepare a draft compromise agreement for the parties to review and sign. Upon conclusion of the agreement, the parties relinquish all prior relevant rights to make any claims against each other and agree to be bound instead by the terms of the compromise agreement. If a party does not comply with the terms, the CPB has the discretion to enforce the agreement.
If the mediation fails and the CPB believes that the business operator has violated the consumer’s rights or any laws, and that further proceedings would be beneficial to consumers as a whole, the CPB may appoint a public prosecutor or a legal officer to initiate civil or criminal actions against the business operator on behalf of the consumer.
From our experience, OCPB mediation can be a useful tool for business operators to end the consumer disputes without having to risk costly and cumbersome criminal proceedings. The convenience and savings can be significant, as most OCPB mediations are now conducted via videoconferencing. However, physical meetings are still needed for the parties to sign the compromise agreement in front of the officers.
Overall, the OPCB mechanism for handling consumer complaints offers both consumers and providers of goods or services a way to resolve their disputes and reach a mutually agreeable settlement. Consumers can feel confident knowing that they have recourse if they run into a problem related to goods or services, and business owners can be assured that consumer complaints will be handled through an established process that will defend them from spurious claims while giving them a chance to rectify justified complaints without undue expense.