The e-commerce sector has grown and created a great impact on the business model over the years in Bangladesh. Currently, there are several big companies and many small and medium entrepreneurs who have adopted the e-commerce business method i.e. selling goods and services online.
The availability of multiple options to choose the desired product from, as well as, the facility of home delivery has attracted people like to shop online rather than shop physically.
Although online shopping undoubtedly has the aforesaid advantages, in many instances, the buyers become victims of unethical business practice, e.g., striking difference between the ordered product and the delivered product, delivering defected products, non-delivery of products, refusal to refund money claimed on the ground of unsatisfactory service, false or misleading advertisements, overprice etc. Cyber-security issues too, e.g., unwanted use of personal information, often arise in the field of online shopping.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic due to the fear of getting infected, people are staying home as much as possible and thus have chosen online shopping as the safer way to buy essential products. But even in this pandemic, a group of people are deceiving their consumers online.
Many people do not know what to do if they get cheated online. Many people do not feel any interest in enforcing their rights through legal procedure as they fear the concerned legal process to be time consuming and complicated.
The Penal Code, 1860; The Contract Act, 1872; The Sale of Goods Act, 1930; The Special Powers Act, 1974; Standard of Weights and Measures Ordinance, 1982; The Bangladesh Standard and Testing Ordinance, 1985; Consumer Protection Act, 2009; The Trade Marks Act, 2009 and Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 are the Bangladeshi laws which seem to be relevant with the topic on its face.
The Penal Code, 1860 Section 264-267 states the offences relating to fraudulent use of false instrument for weighing, fraudulent use of weight or measure. An online buyer can seek remedy for offences relating to weights and measures under this law.
E-commerce was not in existence in 1872. Hence, there is no mention of the e-commerce platform in the Contract Act, 1872. Yet the provisions of the Act can be used to adjudicate the legal issues arising out of online purchases.
In online purchases, the purchaser places an order i.e. offer by clicking the button of "I Agree" or "Purchase," and then, the website, subject to availability of the product in stock, confirms the order i.e. accepts the offer. Thus, upon such confirmation, a binding contract comes into existence between the two parties. So, if afterwards any issue arises between the parties, i.e., any party breaches the contract, the provisions of the Contract Act can be used by the court in deciding penalty on the issue. The traditional terms and conditions of a contract will be applied to these online contracts but with extra complications.
The Sale of Goods Act 1930 is designed to ensure that a purchaser receives products having a certain standard in terms of quality, and makes various remedies available in the event of receiving sub-standard products. Thus, an online purchaser can seek remedy under the said Act in the event of getting substandard product through an online purchase.
The Special Powers Act, 1974, section 25C states that any person, who sells adulterated food, drinks, cosmetics or articles, which are unfit for health, can be punished with the death penalty or life imprisonment or rigorous imprisonment for 14 years. Thus the said Act can be invoked to deal with instances of sale of adulterated food, drinks, cosmetics, articles on online platform.
The Consumers' Rights Protection Act 2009 deals with the rights of the consumers. Sections 40-51 prescribe punishments for any act which violates the rights of consumers e.g. providing substandard products to consumers, cheating the consumer etc.
Another question arises, regarding the protection of online purchasers' personal information, i.e., name, address, phone number, bank details, recorded by the e-commerce sites during online shopping. The Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006 deals with, inter alia, protection of the privacy of the individuals in cyber space. Section 63 of this Act specifically deals with protection of personal data of individuals recorded by the e-commerce sites during online shopping.
However, In Bangladesh, there is no specific law or legal framework for regulating the e-commerce sector, which is the main reason behind the frequent fraudulent activities and unethical business practices by some e-commerce sites. E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) also urged the government to immediately pass such a law to stop fraudulent acts of some e-commerce sites. So, passing a law, which will specifically regulate the e-commerce sector and thereby protect the rights and privacy of the online customers, has become a crying need for Bangladesh.
Different countries have already enacted similar laws. For example, Australia has the Privacy Act 1988 which protects the privacy of their customers. In UK, there are Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Distance Selling Act 2000, and ICO Cookie Law which prescribe regulations that one must comply for selling goods or services online.
Despite the unfortunate irregularities, the e-commerce sector of Bangladesh has a lot of potential. Hence, in order to maintain the growth of this sector, a precise Act should be passed by the legislature. The provisions of Contract Act, 1872 and the Sale of Goods Act, 1930, which apply to online shopping, should also be included in that new Act. The government can create a competent authority which will be responsible to monitor, investigate and dispose of the issues relating to e-commerce.
The author is a student of department of Law, North South University