An overview of the Digital Commerce Operation Guidelines 2021
On 4 July, 2021 the Ministry of Commerce issued the Digital Commerce Operation Guidelines, 2021 pursuant to the National Digital Commerce Policy, 2018 (as amended in 2020) with the aim of ensuring transparency and accountability in the digital commerce sector, creating employment opportunities, ensuring the rights of the consumers and increasing the reliance on digital commerce by bringing about a regulatory framework, and creating a competitive market that provides opportunities for entrepreneurs.
The Guidelines apply to all digital commerce businesses conducting business within the country. The guidelines lay down certain rules to be followed by digital commerce businesses – these include the requirement of listing the detailed conditions of purchase and return, displaying the quantity of goods, their ingredient, price, delivery or other charges etc. and further requires that the image, video etc. of the goods to be sold are provided so as to enable the buyer to make an informed decision.
Furthermore, the Guidelines reaffirm certain restrictions; for example, no addictive or prohibited substance may be sold on digital commerce platforms; no arrangement for online betting or online gambling may be made; no lottery or raffle-draw may be made in contravention to the existing provisions under the Penal Code, 1860 and without the approval of Bangladesh Bank. No digital commerce platform may sell medicines or health care products without appropriate license from the Directorate General of Drug Administration. Some important concerns relating to digital transactions have also been addressed in the Guidelines.
As per the Guidelines, digital commerce platforms are required to obtain prior permission of the buyer in case of obtaining any personal data by providing the reason for which the data is being obtained, where it shall be preserved, how it shall be processed and the purposes for which it shall be used. This may be done by including a "check-box" in the website. No digital wallet, gift card, cash voucher or other alternatives to payment may be implemented without the permission of Bangladesh Bank (where applicable) or in contravention to the directions of Bangladesh Bank. All the information relating to the business shall be preserved for at least 6 years and shall be provided to any government entity upon demand. The timeline for delivery has also been clarified – as per the Guideline, products delivered within the same city should be made within 5 days if payment is made, and if delivered in a different city, it shall be delivered within 10 days. For goods of regular use or perishable goods, the delivery shall be sooner and the buyer must be made aware of the same.
The Guidelines also refer rules for marketplaces. Marketplace is defined as a digital commerce site where information regarding the good or services provided by one or more third-party is provided and where the transactions take place. The marketplace is required to pay the third-party seller its payment upon deduction of necessary charges/commission within 10 days unless otherwise agreed between them.
An important addition of the Guidelines is the section on complaint and redress mechanism. Marketplaces are required to include necessary phone number, email or other means of communication through which consumers may file a complaint. Such complaints must be recorded and a solution must be provided to the consumer within 72 hours. Digital commerce platforms are also instructed to ensure proper rating and review system so that buyers may view them and make an informed choice and such review cannot be erased by the platform.
The authority may take necessary measures or apply to concerned government authorities against any platform which fails to comply with the Guidelines – the measures include cancellation of trade license, company registration, VAT registration etc. Buyers may also lodge complaints to the Directorate of Consumer Rights Protection for redress against any loss resulting from non-compliance.
Another important addition is that under the Guidelines, steps are to be taken so that all digital commerce platforms are gradually required to obtain Unique Business Identification Number (UBID). Under the guidelines, all foreign digital commerce platforms which conduct businesses in Bangladesh must be registered in Bangladesh and must obtain necessary approvals from concerned authorities.