customer service 88.
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A new non-profit organization, Public Trust, was formally established Sunday to provide consumer information and help Israeli businesses maintain ethical business practices profitably.
"Our aim is to transform consumer culture in Israel. The consumer will benefit from transparency and fairness, and the honest business will be differentiated [as such]," said Public Trust's founder and director-general Galit Avishai, the former director-general of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Israel Consumer Council.
Based on the model of the United States' Better Business Bureau, Public Trust (Emun ha-tzibbur) will hold businesses and public bodies to a set of rules that protects consumers; allow the public to submit complaints, supervise companies through public feedback (www.emun.org); and impartially publicize good and bad conduct on the part of businesses.
"This is, in fact, the first time that the Israeli consumer will benefit from [the kind of] protection already customary for many years in advanced countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, and England," Public Trust said.
It also would serve as a member organization that would allow businesses to identify themselves as such. Member businesses must abide by consumer legislation, bind themselves to fair and clear contracts, and commit to fair advertising, protection of customers' privacy, and efficient and fair handling of consumer complaints.
The organization's activity will be directed by a board headed by former Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry Director-General Prof. Reuven Horesh, and counting former Bank of Israel governor David Klein and former Anti-Trust Authority head Dr. David Tadmor among its many members.
Businessman Israel Zilberman, newly arrived from the US, will ensure funding for the organization's activity for the first two years, Avishai said. Public Trust will eventually receive the bulk of its funding from businesses who pay for membership and the voluntary regulation.
Businesses and organizations interested in becoming members of Public Trust must pay an application fee and submit to examinations that could take up to three months. Member businesses who are found to systematically and fundamentally violate Public Trust rules will be stripped of their membership.
Public Trust's "central differentiation" from the Israel Consumer Council is that it is not a consumer organization, but rather "a body operating on the basis of the common interest between consumers and honest businesses," said Avishai.
The Israel Consumer Council welcomed Public Trust's entry and wished it success.
"There is no doubt that any additional organization that works seriously for consumers in Israel can contribute," said a spokesperson of the council.
The ministry's Israel Consumer Council handled more than 40,000 complaints in 2005, the vast majority found to be justified, the spokesperson said.
Public Trust said that 15 businesses already had committed themselves to the rules and begun the adhesion process,including Tadiran-Ampa, Bagir, Tambour, Traklin Electronics, Ishpar, Materna, Mini-Israel, and Steimatzky.
"If several hundred or a thousand businesses join, we will consider that a success, and that number will already have an effect," Avishai said.