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How Australia can stop unfair business practices

A comparative analysis of unfair trading laws in international jurisdictions
Business enterprises Business ethics Fair trading regulation Consumer protection United States of America Singapore Australia Europe United Kingdom

Australians don’t have legal protections against unfair business practices. This means that business models that manipulate or take advantage of consumers, especially practices that are standard across an industry, are allowed to thrive.

Unfair trading laws aren’t a new idea. They’ve been proposed by many experts, advocates, and regulators in Australia. The call for an unfair trading law in Australia has become more urgent as court rulings about 'unconscionable' business practices have demonstrated that this protection in the Australian Consumer Law only applies in the most extreme circumstances. On the international stage, Australia currently stands out by its absence of an unfair trading law when measured against comparative jurisdictions.

This report explores laws that ban or restrict unfair practices across Europe, United States, United Kingdom and Singapore and the lessons that Australia can learn from them. It then outlines the elements that Australia could consider when implementing an effective unfair trading prohibition.

Key recommendations:

  • Design the law in a way that captures unfair practices that can affect any consumer, especially people experiencing disadvantage or any form of vulnerability.
  • Empower regulators with adequate resources so they have the capacity to proactively assess and test the potential impact of an unfair practice.
  • Ensure there are provisions in place that allow the law to evolve over time and for regulators to specifically blacklist certain unfair practices as they emerge.
  • Provide individuals with meaningful access to redress from the harms they’ve experienced from unfair practices and ensure regulators consider redress as part of their enforcement initiatives.
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