Goods from ‘Pro-Democracy’ Store Seized in Customs Raid

AbouThai, a local retail chain that sells daily necessities and products from Thailand, has been widely supported and flooded by local shoppers in recent weeks. This follows HK$400,000 worth of mislabelled goods being seized by the Customs and Excise Department on Thursday, April 8. The mislabelled goods comprised of 8,805 products, including shower gel, detergents and bleaches. A 33-year-old male director responsible for the group’s operations had been arrested and later bailed.

The move made by the Customs and Excise Department has led to accusations that the imposed charges were a form of “oppression [sic]”, as the chain was founded by Mike Lam King-nam, one of the 47 opposition figures being charged under the National Security Law last year. They were alleged for inciting subversion of state power by organizing an unofficial primary election prior to the Legislative Council election.

AbouThai Store in Queensway Plaza, Admiralty, while some local shoppers are looking at the products offered. Photo taken in September 2020. “File:HK Admiralty 金鐘廊 Queensway Plaza LAB Concept shop Abouthai store September 2020 SS2 08.jpg” by Chorzinghuam 2 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

A statement made by the Customs and Excise Department one day after the operation stated that the investigation and seizure was “standard practice”. The department also refuted the online allegations and referred to them as “malicious claims.”

Vincent Chan Kwok-hung, deputy head of the department’s Consumer Goods Safety Division, said that the seized products did not carry any mandatory bilingual warnings on how to keep the products safe, including its consumption and disposal guidelines. The department hence suspects that these products may have breached the Consumer Goods Safety Regulation.

Although the department reiterated that all businesses have always been treated equally, and there is no selective or biased law enforcement on this regulation, it has been reported that there are multiple products in the market from different businesses that fail to abide by the regulation. Since the AbouThai incident, the Customs and Excise Department has received more than 160 complaints over the weekend.

According to the Consumer Goods Safety Regulation, a subsidiary legislation of the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance, warnings or cautions marked on the packaging of consumer products that are related to safe storage, use, consumption or disposal must be bilingual in both Chinese and English. The relevant expression must be clear and readable, and the label should be firmly attached to the package, or to the documents in the package while making sure that it is conspicuous.

Even if the relevant consumer products have been accompanied by warnings in English, if warnings or cautions involve safe storage, use, consumption or disposal, they must also be expressed in Chinese. Conversely, if there are only warnings in Chinese, they must also be accompanied by an English version.

Around one week after the incident, Shroffed decided to visit local suppliers and supermarkets to investigate whether the situation has improved and whether there are still products that are in contravention of the law. It was found that at least 10 products from Japan Home, Parknshop and Welcome have not been accompanied with bilingual warning labels.

Example of correctly labelled goods. (Photo: Steffi Sze)

Shop owners from the above-mentioned businesses denied replying to questions regarding the labels and the Consumer Goods Safety Regulation.

Ms Leung, a customer at one of the above mentioned stores, said she thinks that not having bilingual warning labels is not that big of a problem. But, if there are regulations set out, then businesses should comply with them.

“To be honest, I don’t usually read the labels, and I guess most people do not read them as well” she said. “But even though it is not bilingual, the warnings mostly come along with diagrams that can be easily understood.”

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