E–Business in Bangladesh: Need for a Legal Framework
In Bangladesh, e-commerce or online-based marketplace has started its journey without any statutory framework. In a pandemic situation like the ongoing Covid-19, people from different countries including Bangladesh rely on online purchase, however a significant proportion of consumers are dissatisfied with the services. Numerous instances of breach of contract for the sale of goods have been reported regarding online business. Both buyers and sellers are having issues of these contract infractions which results in a number of payment anomalies in the country. Therefore, Government is going to introduce digital payment infrastructure. The issue of digital payment gateway demands a separate discussion is therefore beyond the scope of this writeup.
People can start their online business with personal user profile and using different features of various social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram etc. For instance, on Facebook, individual traders utilise Facebook groups and pages to display their goods with the intent of selling to group members or followers. Moreover, in comparison to individual profiles or any other online business platform, Facebook Pages are gaining much popularity due to advanced features that assist both the buyers and the sellers to find one another.
This increased popularity can occasionally be damaging to consumers' interests. Facebook, when it comes to creating a page, does not require owners to provide that much information as would suffice to find out their genuine identities. Ambiguity in identity heightens the risk of frauds, misrepresentation, and infringement of consumers' rights. Sellers who merely intend to borrow money from banks are only interested in obtaining a trading license. Majority of online traders remains uninterested in applying for electronic business identification number (e-BIN) or renewing commercial licenses, hence, remain outside the watch of revenue authorities. On the other side, those wishing to run legitimate online business faced with difficulties as a result of fake orders and manipulated or eye attacking reviews from unidentified users. In the case of cash on delivery, deliverymen usually have trouble locating consumers. At times, buyers cannot be reached due to given false information or for a not-in-use phone number. The seller incurs additional costs for return and of unsuccessful delivery. Therefore, governing the entire e-commerce system establishing a legal structure for the protection of interests of both parties is a crying need.
The elements of an offline contract [an offer, acceptance, and consideration] are identical to those of a contract of online marketing. But the existing legal framework in Bangladesh does not recognise such online transactions as contract for sale of goods. For example, the Sale of Goods Act, 1930 (SGA, 1930) is in force in the country which regulates the legal arena of sale contracts. The law by its nature is back dated, mostly superseded by other special laws, no amendment so far has been taken to make it fit for modern era. Paradoxically, the law is completely silent on online offers or descriptions or samples of a product or its similar acceptance.
Another statutory law titled 'The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009' (CRPA, 2009) enacted specially for the protection of the rights of the consumers. But like the SGA, 1930, this Act is also silent on e-business having no specific provisions addressing online services. The CRPA, 2009 entrusted the Director General, to receive and dispose of consumers' complaints. The authority does receive a huge number of complaints. But when it comes to dealing with consumer's complaint arising out of online transactions, the complainant hardly has any chance for remedy. It is observed that if section 45 of the CRPA 2009 is amended so as to incorporate the phrase "online service," it will be easier for concerned authorities to provide remedy of complaints arising out of online business.
From the above discussion, one thing is to be noted that although online enterprises are sprouting up in digital Bangladesh, comprehensive legal framework is yet to be put into place. In this connection, it can be added here that India has, for the protection of the consumers' interests, enacted a new Act titled Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The term "online" has been included in new legislation. Explanation (b) of Section 2(7) of the Act, denotes that, "The expressions "buys any goods" and "hires or avails any services" includes offline or online transactions through electronic means or by teleshopping or direct selling or multi-level marketing."
In fine, the government should, after consultations with the stakeholders concerned, put a comprehensive legal framework for regulating of e-business and protection of the rights of e-contracting parties. That legal scheme must ensure all sorts of online business enterprises be verified with personal national IDs of their admins and owners as well as consumers. The concerned government regulatory authorities such as the BTRC should collaborate with online e-commerce platforms to preserve the information of online business entities. Moreover, the online customers should be made aware of that purchase from untrustworthy online merchants for deception and misrepresentation of goods. Therefore, the government should mull over bringing about time demanded amendment to the afore-mentioned Acts and insert the word "Online" in the relevant laws which can assist to alleviate people's suffering in this virtual commercial world.
The writer is Professor, Department of Law, Rajshahi University.