Online Dispute Resolution
in Latin America and Emerging Countries
By María Mercedes Albornoz and Nuria González Martín*
Developed countries are several steps ahead of emerging countries
in the area of information and communications technology (ICT),
widely enjoying the benefits of ICT. It follows that, within rich
nations, the use of an Internet environment in conflict resolution –
generally called Online Dispute Resolution or ODR – is becoming
quite widespread, embracing not only disputes in the field of
e-commerce and e-consumer protection, but also domain names,
family law issues and disputes generated in the offline world.
Could ODR develop successfully in emerging regions where access
to the Internet and broadband connection is limited?
This article is focused primarily on Latin America (defined here
as OAS members other than the U.S. and Canada—see http://
www.oas.org/en/member_states/default.asp). However, developing
countries often share the characteristic of unequal distribution of
wealth, and therefore many of the observations and conclusions
regarding the Latin American case may also be valid for other
We look exclusively at ODR’s application to disputes that arise in
online transactions. We use the term ODR here to cover all online
applications of ADR processes, including negotiation, conciliation,
mediation and arbitration—in effect, ODR is ADR plus ICT. We
exclude from the term the use of ICT in court proceedings, where
traditional state courts conduct traditional judicial proceedings as
“cybercourts” or “cybertribunals.”
In Latin America, ODR is still in its early stages and has several
challenges to face. But it has great potential strengths, some of
which it has already begun to realize, including (i) its adaptability
to the local context, (ii) its efficiency and (iii) its capacity to
contribute to the development of emerging economies.
Adaptability to Local Context
The ICT infrastructure does not cover the entire territory of all
the countries in the Latin American region. Personal computer
penetration is still low; Internet and broadband access, where
available, are very expensive and their quality still tends to be poor.
Furthermore, low “bancarization” (essentially, the percentage of
the population using basic banking services) and the low rate of
use of credit cards are directly linked to the weak development of
alternatives for online payment. Yet ICT in the form of mobile
phone usage, and through mobile phones the number of people
with Internet access, has hugely expanded and has begun to breach
the digital divide.
E-commerce and ODR methods have adapted to take advantage of
the existing online and mobile Internet penetration. The Mexican
e-commerce marketplace Decompras.com has ingeniously
circumvented the problem of the population’s low bancarization
by allowing online purchases to be charged to the consumer’s
Telmex telephone bill in up to thirty-six monthly payments.
Similar adaptations to the local context can be seen in the current
practice of the Latin American Institute of Electronic Commerce
(ILCE), a regional pilot ODR provider. ILCE allows consumers to
file claims free of charge in disputes arising from online or mobile
e-contracts between an e-customer and a business with the e Trust
seal or trust mark on its website.
Another aspect of ODR adaptation to the Latin American context
is that the proceedings can be held in Spanish or Portuguese,
that is, in the local language spoken by the claimant. Such an
adjustment to the regional linguistic culture is of great importance
for the Latin American e-consumer: it reduces the language barrier
that would probably exist with a vendor from a developed country
in the Northern hemisphere.
* This article is based on a paper recently written by the authors: “Feasibility Analysis of Online Dispute Resolution in Developing
Countries”, University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, Vol. 44, Nº 2, 2013.