World Consumer Day – 15th March 2014

| by Sarath Wijesinghe

( March 15, 2014, Tel Aviv, Sri Lanka Guardian) "World Consumer Day" first observed on 15th March 1983. Two year later on 9th April 1985 United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN guide lines for Consumer protection, following a decade of hard lobbying and hard work of consumer organizations worldwide. The guide lines adopted the principles of eight consumer rights to provide a frame work to strengthen national consumer protection policies of respective states and government has changed according to the trade practices and economic policies. John Kennedy who addressed the US Congress, on the issue of Consumer Rights is one of the first and pioneered to lead the consumer movement. Since then the world's consumer day was effective worldwide in the interest of the consumer who is now considered to be as powerful as a "King" as one of the most organized international organizations. They say that the consumer is always right and the King of economic strength of a country. Consumer Affairs Authority – the main regulatory body for the consumer is organizing events annually which coincides the World Consumer Day on behalf of the consumer and the consumer movements.

Consumers refer to individuals or households that use goods and services generated within the economic, which users any productive or service. In the free market economies, consumers are presumed to dictate what goods are generally considered. The Center of the economic activity. Other parts of the world of consumer are organized and powerful tool to combat cost of living and monopoly of the trader, industrialists and the business generally. Consumer Affairs act provides for the CAA to initiate and support the consumer movement by catalyzing and directing to form consumer organizations. Consumer International which organizers the world consumer day is the umbrella organization of the organizations worldwide. CAA and the community must work together in combating cost of living and mal practices of the trader and the industrialist. World Consumer day will remind the duties and responsibilities of the CAA and the community – in particular the NGO's and active social organization. It is time to give priority to the noble venture without diverting attention to other international activism on areas pertaining to international NGO's.

The identified consumer rights by the United Nations are right to satisfaction of basic needs, right to safety, right to be informed, right choose, right to be heard, right to redress, right to consumer education, and right to healthy environment and by adopting the guidelines, consumer rights were finally elevated to a position of international recognition and legitimacy, acknowledge developed and developing countries alike, yet they can continue to ignore or trivialized by governments procedures companies, and powerful interest. These rights sometimes are embodied in the legislature.

Chapter on our fundamental rights jurisdiction and public law remedies available in our system of law has some opening in the promoting and protecting and enjoying consumer rights which is a basic human right. These rights are codified and implemented in various ways. The best and most effective mode is consumer activism which is in the top of the agenda worldwide in the world of consumerism.

Theme 2014 is on mobile phones with the slogan "Fix our Phone Rights". The themes on previous past have been on Our Money, Our Rights in 2012, Consumers for Fair Consumer Services in 2011, Our Money Our Rights in 2010, Junk Food Generation in 2008, Unethical Drug Promotion in 2007, and Energy Sustainable Access to all in 2006. This indicates that every year the consumer international identifies and area which is very close to the consumer in general. The current topic is very timely and opportune, considering the large number of consumers using mobile phones in their day to day lives business profession and other areas of life public and private. Does local mechanism sufficient to combat the inadequacies and needs of the consumer on the chosen topic fix your Phones Right?

Today mobile has become a responsible part of our lives and it is growing day by day adding new developments to the instruments and the networks. Currently there are around 7 billion mobile phone users worldwide waiting for an organized consumer activism for their rights and benefits. This amount of subscribers is growing rapidly. The quality of the service they receive from the companies earning billions from the consumer is a concern to the consumer and the consumer activist groups including the world consumer organization organizing the world consumer day. The proactive mechanism and the stringent rules in the west and the developed world are developing faster and the ripple effect is spread world with the increase of the subscribers worldwide. Fierce competition in the mobile phone trade as brought down the price of instruments and the networks but the direct and indirect exploitation of the giant mobile business empire adopts various methods to misdirect the consumer.

The time has passed when the mobile phones are not only convenient to the life of average citizen but an important tool making it a necessary part of the life to every sector of the society. Mobile Phone today is omnipresent, being utilized by all sectors of the society. The utility value is expanded every day with the addition of new gadgets and components and offers by converting it to mini mobile computers. It is estimated that there are around 20.3 million mobile phone subscribers for a population of 20.8 million which is a substantial number compared to the average population. According to TRC (Telephone Regulatory Commission) body the subscribers of mobile phones have been estimated at 19,533,724. Anyway the number of subscribers is growing day by day.

It is not only rich or privileged using mobile phones in the society. It has become accessible to the ordinary masses due to completion of the Companies and the popularity of this facility despite the financial commitments and the burden to the budget which are substantial. Consumer is very sensitive to the cost of living of other consumer items yet keep on patronizing the mobile phone with growing demand day by day with modern sophisticated machines. Due to modern and advanced gadgets it has become a mobile version of the word processor – computer using it as mobile offices.

Mobile phone benefits to the society as well as causing dangers on misuse of this valuable device. Spread of crime, drug, and misuse by the children are dangers to be given attention to in regulating the use of mobile phone. It is a tool for development, business, education, health, as well as criminal activities and children being spoiled. But it has become a tool and a trend which is unstoppable and the only way out is to impose restrict regulations on the management and the financial aspect.

Despite the competition of the mobile companies, expenditure of the mobile phone bill has become a substantial burden to the family unit and the country as a whole. Instead of the traditional land line for the family which is gradually diminishing in use, every other member including school children possess a phone making a burden to the Sri Lankan Economy and the budget of an average family. Most of the mobile companies are foreign based.

Consumers racing the voice and concerns on the rise of food and other consumer items willing to pay the expenditure of the mobile bill which is substantial with modern instruments with multiple purposes. Do the mobile subscribers in Sri Lanka, get a reasonable return and service is a moot issue, that is yet to be discuss, when the giant mobile companies fast accumulating wealth develop fast and prosper at a disproportionate rate. The statutory body which regulates consumerism in Sri Lanka is the Consumer Affairs Authority at 9th of 2003 is expected to safeguard and protect the consumer. Consumer in the Act gives protection to the consumers. Sri Lankan CAA is the government mandated authority to preserve consumer interest and to ensure a fair market competition in Sri Lanka. It says consumer is the King because the organized consumer organizations are powerful so that they are in a position to shape powerful organizations in power. On the other hand the Organization monitors and regulates consumer rights with the existing Acts and regulatory bodies. TRC in Sri Lanka (Telephone Regulatory Commission) is the main regulatory body in Sri Lanka and acts in parallel to the CAA and other organizations and regulatory bodies. Currently there are mega multinational companies in mobile trade penetrating in to length and breadth of the country with enormous revenue.

It is time for the consumer- consisting of all the world citizens-and the organizations to get together and clamour for their due rights in one voice on 15th of March 2014 with the world umbrella organizations (Consumer International) for consumerism activism and promote consumer rights. It is not advisable and prudent to organize this major event in isolation. A joint effect will be beneficial and effective. Media has a major role to play in this exercise.

We understand Institute of Policy studies, the CAA and many organizers are planning to organize different events on world consumer day-(15/03/14) Sarvodaya, Institute of Policy Studies, all electronic and printed media with the network of NGO's should discuss this matter well in advance at a Common Forum and involve all stall hold for the event/s draw up a strategy as it effects and involves the entire community. Private and Public sector participation on this exercise is essential. International support could be obtained via Embassy outlets and the leading Institution on this operation.

Sarath Wijesinghe is the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Israel and a Former Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority.