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Consumer justice now - theme of the year

 WORLD CONSUMER DAY 2013 (15TH March 2013)

| by Sarath. Wijesinghe
 (former Chairman - Consumer Affairs Authority- Solicitor and Attorney –at-Law)

( March 15, 2013, Tel Aviv, Sri Lanka Guardian) This year too, the consumer’s world wild congregates for their rightful demands as the largest economic group affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decisions (President John F Kennedy on 15/2/1962). This follows that every human being is a consumer in some form in everyday life. WCD was originated in 1983, and subsequently the consumer rights were elevated to a position of international recognition and legitimacy by adopting the guidelines of the United Nations. WCD is one of the events of showing strength and power of the consumer.. Seminars, workshops and all forms of activism give a sense of power and strength to the consumer.

Consumer is one that needs protection as he/she is vulnerable to the giant and powerful traders Industrialists manufacturers and distributors. Protective measures have been taken by governments, International Organizations, and organized consumer organizations in safeguarding and achievement of the laws and rightful rights and positions in the court, society and the international arena.

CONSUMER JUSTICE

Consumer is entitled and deserves justice as every world citizen is a consumer targeted and exploited by the trader and industrialist. Consumer is too week and helpless to fight back unless properly organized. Worldwide organizations are needed to centralize activism across the globe for justice and fair play for the consumer.. Press for updates, revision, and implementation of UN guidelines with international ratifications are urgently required in this exercise.

Most countries have mechanisms for consumer justice on various levels. Consumer protection acts, guidelines, and procedures are available in addition to general laws. Attitudes of governments on consumer organizations and initiatives taken to ensure safety of the consumer have varied degrees and measurements. To the credit of many countries attempts have been made by governments and the organizations to take measures for thee protection of this vulnerable group but to what extent the attempts have been successful is a moot issue..

CONSUMER AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Consumerism is the activism of the consumers and the response from the government, traders, industrialists, and manufacturers. In the west consumerism has led to self regulation of trade and indirect price control due to fierce competition. In Sri Lanka anti merger and   competition of competition are still in primitive stages. In the West they say that the consumer is the King. And the consumer is always right.

Universal Declaration and many other Conventions have accepted consumer rights as a human right. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration confirms the right to a standard of living, adequate health, and well being of mankind and of the family including food clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond control. It is the duty of any government in power to pave the way for the consumer to enjoy their rights which are more fully described by the United Nations as right to satisfaction of basic needs, right to softy, right to be informed, right to choose, right to be heard, right to redress, right to consumer education.

CAA AND REGULATORY BODIES

Consumer Affairs Authority and other regulatory bodies in Sri Lanka are in the forefront in the consumerism field in addition to non governmental organizations. CAA which is the main regulator has provisions to protect the consumer against the marketing of goods of consumers or the provisions of services which are hazardous to the life and property of consumers, protect consumer against unfair trade practices, ensure consumer has adequate access to goods and services, and seek redress against unfair trade practices.

CAA has power to execute the mandate mainly by way of regulation, with certain powers of warning, call for information, inspection and search, sale of perishable goods, promotion of competition and consumer interest, carry out investigations, power of entry inspection and search, prevent of hoarding of goods, actions against refusal to sell, agreement on maximum price, inquire into complaints, selling or offering to sell above market price, undertake studies and issue direction are some powers vested on the Authority in performing the duties and functions.

Are these provisions and powers sufficient to meet the growing demands of the consumer seeking Justice, in this modern and competitive computer age, when the marketing patters are fast changing and the traders and industrialists vigorously apply techniques to obtain the maximum price by exploiting the consumer? Are the CAA and other regulatory bodies are adequate to meet the fast moving demands of the helpless and pressed consumer?.

Some of the other regulatory bodies working hand in hand with the CAA are Public Utilities Commission, Financial Ombudsman, Tax Ombudsman, Insurance Ombudsman, Telecommunication regulatory body and other statutory bodies and appointments by the State for the purpose of monitoring and regulation. When compared to the population and the growing demands of the consumer, these mechanisms are grossly inadequate to protect the consumer. The consumer should organize themselves to show the real power of seeking justice with the assistance and backing of the statutory bodies and the State empowered and committed to grant Justine and fair play to the consumer.

CONSUMER ACTIVISM IN SRI LANKA

It is sad but true that consumerism is powerful worldwide except in Sri Lanka. It is the main duty of the Non Governmental activists to take the responsibility and burden of consumer justice in the interest of the mankind and themselves. We find only a handful of activists and activism in this sphere in Sri Lanka. Thousands of NGOs are active and vibrant in many other fields but not in this area which has a burning need. People have reasonable doubts whether the CAA is effective and delivering goods to the community. Promote assist and encourage the establishment of consumer organizations, appoint committees, promote exchange of information. Promote consumer education with regard to good health safety and security, promote competitive prices, keep consumers informed of the quality quantity and standards of prices, promote and protect rights of consumers, investigate or inquire  are a part of the mandate entrusted to the CAA in performing duties and implementation of the concepts.

CONSUMERISM IN THE WEST AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD

Consumerism has strong links with the Western World. It is actually multi cultural and non geographical. People purchasing goods and consumer materials in excess of their need are natural as old as first civilizations. Since consumerism began various individuals and groups have consciously sought the alternative lifestyle eco conscious and”Localvore”- buy local materials. Consumerism is the promotion of consumer rights and protection is subject to the doctrine of “Caveat Emptor” (let buyer beware).. This is calling for consumer to be armed with knowledge and to be organized. It is vibrant and effective in USA and the Western States. India is full of activism and case law on the subject. Other parts of the world too consumerism and consumer activism is gradually and steadily growing day by day.

WAY FORWARD

Sri Lanka deserves and entitle to a more effective mechanism in promoting consumerism which is not as active and vibrant as in the other parts of the world. The existing legislation and the attitude on this area is to be improved and the people including Non Governmental Organizations should pioneer this neglected area if they are genuinely interested in the betterment of the life of the citizen in need of assistance for a more organized consumer movement. We hope the World Consumer Day will have a catalytic effect on this area which needs attention.

Sarth Wijesinghe can be contacted on sarath 7@hotmail.co.uk
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