For two years now, negotiations have been ongoing at WTO level concerning new rules for electronic commerce. As one of 42 civil society organisations, the Chamber of Labour has issued a declaration insisting that the protection of the fundamental right to data protection and privacy will take top priority.
The trend cannot be denied: for many years now, consumers have increasingly shopped online. The Coronavirus crisis has massively fuelled this trend. In many countries, lockdown rules have further contributed to consumers changing their shopping behaviour away from physical stores towards the Internet, thereby making in particular online giants, such as Amazon, major beneficiaries. However, it had already been agreed before the crisis, that the rules for commerce, which had been shifted to the Internet, were in urgent need of reforming.
WTO initiative for new rules
Within the scope of the Initiative for a Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (JSI), more than 80 Member States of World Trade Organisation (WTO), including all EU Member States, have been negotiating new rules since January 2019. It is the self-declared goal of the Initiative to define global rules, which shall equally facilitate online trade for consumers and businesses.
Coordinated by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), a total of 42 organisations signed a joint statement, calling on all participants in the negotiations to give first priority to data protection and the privacy of consumers.
Cross-border data flows
A key point of the JSI Agenda is the facilitation of cross-border data flows. Nowadays, such data flows are playing an important economic role; however, in the interest of consumers they have to be accompanied by strong and effective rules for the protection of privacy and personal data. All countries, participating in the WTO Initiative should therefore be in a position to implement and enforce a high degree of legal protection, thereby preventing human rights from being undermined or protected with various degrees of success. Only then it can be ensured that the consumers’ trust in electronic commerce will be sustainably strengthened. This should also be in the interest of an already beleaguered WTO.
This is why the 42 signing organisations demand in their joint statement that an appropriate approach will be pursued: if the cross-border data flows shall indeed be part of a future agreement at WTO level, existing protection mechanisms and data protection as well as personal rights have to come first. If it is not possible to fulfil these conditions, relevant rules should be excluded from the negotiations and the striven for agreements respectively. Instead, one might support other binding regulations, such as the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data.
EU also planning revision
Within the scope of the Digital Services Act, the rules for electronic commerce announced by the EU Commission for early December, shall also be revised within the EU. The relevant Directive is already 20 years old and no longer meets today’s requirements in many areas. Here too, the Chamber of Labour emphatically supports the interests of consumers – in particular with regard to the demand for up to date protection against non-transparency, deception, unconscionability and fraud on the Internet.