Consumers in China: The true meaning of san yao wu

FIFTY-TWO years ago this week, John Kennedy gave a speech to Congress in which he argued that consumers “are the only important group in the economy who are not effectively organised, whose views are often not heard.” His eloquent plea for their protection led to the United Nations guidelines for consumer protection and to the annual celebration of World Consumer-Rights Day on March 15th.Nowhere is that day marked with more gusto than in China, where it is known as san yao wu (three one five). Every year on that date, the national broadcaster airs a much-watched programme lauding consumer rights. It is also used as an excuse to bash successful foreign firms—Apple was last year’s main target—for small or imagined transgressions.This year China will better honour Kennedy’s legacy. The television gala is still due to be broadcast this weekend, and corporate evildoers—internet firms are rumoured to be in the crosshairs this time—will probably be shamed again. But something more important will also happen. On March 15th a new consumer law, the biggest reform in this area in 20 years, comes into force. At face value, it appears to give a big…

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