Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is a fast rising class of alternative dispute resolution that is taking advantage of the escalation of internet usage and its availability. It is a form of dispute resolution process that caters for dispute resolution via the internet or some virtual form of communication that allows dispute resolution without the presence of both parties in a dispute in the same location.
Almost all ODR processes are in form of written submissions but there are other forms of ODR which range from online arbitration, negotiation and mediation; which may be video or chat based. ODR formats may sometimes depend on the dispute or the parties involved in the dispute.
ODR has been gaining a wide acceptance in conflict resolution especially in e-commerce disputes, no surprise there, as the use of internet for e-commerce transactions increases, new forms of disputes relating to that space/ e-commerce will also be on the rise.
Giant e-commerce companies like eBay, Alibaba and Amazon have adopted ODR as a tool to settle their consumer-to-consumer disputes (vendors and buyers on their platforms).
Alibaba’s form of resolving disputes in its market place goes thus:
The buyer can open a dispute after making payment and before confirming delivery of its order in two cases:
(i) the goods are not received before the shipping deadline or
(ii) the goods are not received with fulfillment of the conditions predicted. If the parties cannot resolve a complaint within 10 days, a panel of Alibaba’s ODR team settles it by imposing penalties on the defaulting party.
EBay also has a similar form of resolving disputes. How does it work? EBay’s preferred dispute resolution provider is SquareTrade.
SquareTrade offers two services: a web based forum which allows users to attempt to resolve their differences on their own or if necessary through the help of a professional mediator or an ODR practitioner.
Sellers/vendors on eBay must refer their buyers to its ODR platform. It’s free to file a complaint. Buyers when filing a complaint, have to do it by following these two steps: creating a SquareTrader User ID and password, then entering complaint details. After this, SquareTrade will encourage the other party to respond to the case by sending a notification email to the other party (the vendor) so it??? can respond.
Consumers/users of eBay can request the assistance of a professional mediator for $15 (eBay will subsidize the rest of the cost). The whole process takes generally 10 days.
ODR with its many benefits is yet to be utilized in many countries and the countries in which it is being utilized are under-utilizing it. Nigeria is one of the many countries that is yet to adopt this easy, cheap, accessible and fast mode of dispute resolution. A lot of Nigerian brands will speedilyexpand and gain more recognition if they adopt the ODR technique. A major part of the problem lies in the fact that:
- Lots of people are ignorant of this dispute resolution technique and the use of information technology and computer literacy is still limited.
- Lots of legal practitioners are unaware too and seeing as arbitration and mediation are just starting to get the recognition they deserve, it is not so shocking that only a handful of people are aware that there is a dispute resolution technique that solely operates virtually.
- When using the ODR technique, people have to source for legal contents themselves most times; sometimes not really having an in-depth understanding of the claims they are making because they can choose to hire or not hire a lawyer.
- There is also the internet problem, not all parts of Nigeria have good internet reception and access.
- There is also a fear of invasion of privacy.
- Lack of physical communication can also lead to misunderstanding of what the other party is trying to project.
Nigerian brands are yet to adopt this dispute resolution technique. Before this can be achieved:
- Consumers have to have a good grasp of what ODR is and how it can help them resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively.
- Lawyers getting training in the art of online mediation
- Mediators resorting to the internet more when mediating disputes; training themselves in online mediation simulations in as many languages as possible – e.g. Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba – and for different kind of cases; persuading their clients to use the internet when resolving disputes too would increase ODR awareness and also encourage people to use them when proposed by Nigerian brands.
- The eBay and amazon technique can be adopted too but it would be in the business to consumer (B2C) method because eBay’s technique is for consumer to consumer disputes (C2C) and we don’t have Nigerian brands which operate that way.
- Courts preaching ODR; insisting that there should be an ODR clause like there is for ADR, parties to a dispute will have no choice but to resort to ODR when disputes arise.
- Nigerian brands should also include ODR clauses in the terms of their contracts.
There is an ocean of opportunities for improvement of dispute resolution through technology that we need to embrace. Nevertheless, if you cannot believe that digitalization of justice is a relentless reality for the near future, do not feel guilty. Due to the cognitive bias of human reasoning known as the availability heuristic, we tend to doubt something until we have experienced it since our switch to reality is what we have available at the time.
I really do hope we start preaching the gospel of ODR after reading this.
By Oreniyi Adesewa, Research Associate at DGL Research