In Bangladesh, the people who have to buy the various commodities on sale in the market for their consumption should, at least, according to definition, be called consumers. However, when it comes to the rights that define a consumer in modern parlance, one is really at a loss about how to define the consuming public of Bangladesh. For compared to societies where rights of the consumer folk are duly protected, in Bangladesh they are the neglected lot. In the prevailing situation, the traders, whether retailers or wholesalers exercise and enjoy all the powers, often to the chagrin of the consumers. Such a state of affairs has been going on for too long in Bangladesh. As a consequence, a kind of imbalance has been created in society so much so that the consumer public has been left entirely to the whims and caprices of a section of unscrupulous traders.
How is a consumer protected
To protect consumer rights, the best possible solution is that the consumers must be aware of their rights, work together with consumer organizations, assert against exploitation and seek redress for their grievances. A kind of self-vaccinating culture has to be developed to produce the best harvest from the Consumer Rights Protection Act (CRPA),
In our country, consumer awareness is low due to the apathy and lack of education among the masses. The efforts to educate them about their rights, quality concerns, price mechanisms, access to justice etc are limited due to varied reasons. The producers of goods and services providers are reluctant to give due consideration to the interest of consumers.
Why consumer protection is necessary
• The people who dominate the market or run businesses are always in a more advantageous position than the Customers. The customers are often put into a disadvantaged and unequal bargaining situation. Therefore, consumers need to be protected.
• Honesty should govern competitive business enterprises and the maxim ‘buyer be aware’ should not be relied upon to reward fraudulent and deceptive businesses.
• The concept of consumer rights cannot be separated from the human rights perspective.
• Consumer rights are regarded as a facet of ‘social justice’.
• Ralph Nader, pioneer of the American consumer movement said, ‘consumers are the vital force of the economy’.
“EIGHT LEGITIMATE RIGHTS OF THE CONSUMERS”
1. Right to Satisfaction of Basic needs: Fundamental right according to the Constitution of Bangladesh to have access to food, clothing, education, healthcare, shelter.
2. Right to Safety: protection from hazardous and unsafe products and services.
3. Right to Information: information about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of products and services.
4. Right to Choose: Availability of selection of goods and services from their varieties to justify the quality, cost, preference.
5. Right to be Heard: raise unhappiness against consumer malpractice; or right to be represented by consumer organizations.
6. Right to Redress: This is the crux of consumer rights. The consumer is entitled to have legal remedy, either monetary or exchange, in case of violation of consumer rights.
7. Right to Consumer Education: to have access to programs and information that helps the consumer to make a better and informed buying decision.
8. Right to Healthy Environment: to live and work in an environment that does not affect consumers’ welfare and health.
“RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CONSUMER”
• Use the product safely, following all safety instructions and remaining alert for future precautions.
• Choose vigilantly at a fair price.
• Make the effort to seek compensation for a wrong.
• Make choices that minimize the environmental impact of your purchase on others.
• Consume in a sustainable manner, so as not to preventothers from meeting their own needs.
Parties to Consumer Protection
We have realised the need for steps to protect consumer interest. The question is, who will take those steps? Can consumers alone do it? Or, should we depend on the government? Can businessmen do anything? Actually, for effective consumer protection, it is essential that all the three parties must be involved, that is,
(a) Consumers; (b) Businessmen; and (c) Government. Let us consider what each of the parties can do:
(a) We shall agree that self-help is the best help. So consumers should, as far as possible, take care of their own interest and protect themselves from market malpractices. For this purpose, it is necessary that they should try to know about their rights and exercise them. They Business Studies should not depend on the good sense of businessmen. Consumers have a right to education and also a right to be heard. They should attend training programmes for consumers arranged by local consumer associations or by their own association and invite consumer activists to speak to them on consumer rights and remedies available under the law to protect them.
(b) As regards businessmen, it is expected that producers, distributors, dealers, wholesalers as well as retailers should pay due regard to consumer rights in their own interest. They should ensure supply of quality goods and services at reasonable prices. To prevent unfair practices, associations of traders, chambers of commerce and industry, and manufacturers’ associations should entertain consumer complaints against their members and take proper action against those guilty of malpractice.
(c) For Government, consumer protection is a responsibility to be undertaken in the general interest of society. Enforcement of various laws and amending existing laws to protect consumer interests are required to be taken up in the light of viewpoints of consumer associations. Representations of consumer groups should also be associated with the policymaking bodies set up by government at the centre and the states. A number of measures have been taken by Government from time to time.
The laws having consumer protection implication
Consumer protection law or consumer law is considered an area of law that regulates private law relationships between individual consumers and the businesses that sell those goods and services. Consumer protection covers a wide range of topics, including but not necessarily limited to product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation, and other consumer/business interactions.
Consumer protection laws deal with a wide range of issues including credit repair, debt repair, product safety, service and sales contracts, bill collector regulation, pricing, utility turnoffs, consolidation, personal loans that may lead to bankruptcy.
In the Bangladesh context, the government should reactivate the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) and create a consumers corporation for public distribution system. The two bodies can go for local purchase or imports for the purpose. The standards and testing institution needs to be strengthened to oversee product quality. It is also the responsibility of the government to interact with International Organization for Standardization (ISO), FAO and WHO for updating food standards.
Mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer contracts have to be incorporated to help the consumer avoid the hassle of litigation.
The government should make and update the rules for businesses to disclose detailed information about products-particularly in areas where safety or public health is an issue such as food. Consumer protection is linked to the idea of consumer rights, and to the formation of consumer organizations which help consumers make better choices in the marketplace.
The UN guidelines for consumer protection are meant to achieve the following objectives:
a. To assist countries in achieving or maintaining adequate protection for their population as consumers;
b. To facilitate production and distribution patterns responsive to the needs and desires of consumers;
c. To encourage high levels of ethical conduct for those engaged in the production and distribution of goods and services to consumers;
d. To assist countries in curbing abusive business practices by all enterprises at the national and international levels which adversely affect consumers;
e. To facilitate the development of independent consumer groups;
f. To further international cooperation in the field of consumer protection; and
g. To encourage the development of market conditions which provide consumers with greater choice at lower prices.
The UN emphasizes on protection of consumers by facilitating production and distribution, encouraging ethical conduct in production and distribution, facilitating and encouraging formation of consumer groups, international co-operation and development of market condition for greater choice of lower prices.
The government should promote implementation of standards at the national and international levels for the safety and quality of goods and services. National standards and regulations for product safety and quality should be reviewed from time to time, in order to ensure that they conform, where possible, to generally accepted international standards.
The government should ensure the availability of facilities to test and certify the safety, quality and performance of essential consumer goods and services.
Recently Consumer Rights Protection Act 2009 has been enacted in Bangladesh stipulates the establishment of a Central Consumer Protection Council. It requires the government to establish a directorate of consumer right protection to oversee and co-ordinate the consumer protection activities. The consumer protection law made Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Act No. V of 1898), Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 and Special Powers Act, 1974, relevant to defining adulteration and hoarding. It allows 90 days to settle a case. The Mobile Court Act has empowered the authorities to issue warrant of search and arrest the erring sellers.
The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009, a comprehensive law, makes the existing laws relevant for the country’s market economy. It provides for addressing problems and bringing about discipline the market. The seven-chapter law provides for the establishment of a National Consumer Right Protection Council. The law clearly defines consumer offences and stipulates the punishments. But it does not provide for the establishment of separate tribunals or courts to try consumer offences as is the case in some other countries. The courts of first class magistrates or the metropolitan magistrates are empowered to try consumer offences. The law does not enable an aggrieved consumer or a consumers association to go directly to such courts against erring sellers. The aggrieved consumers in Bangladesh can only lodge a complaint to the director general of the consumer directorate within 30 days and then must wait for the directorate to take further action, if required. Obviously, the law leaves the decision to the directorate whether or not to take lodge a complaint against the alleged offenders.
The Consumer Protection Act provides an alternative and inexpensive remedy by way of civil suits. A consumer is not required to pay any court fees or even process fee. Proceedings would be summary in nature and the law stipulates relief to the parties in 90 days. A consumer, not satisfied with the decision of a magistrates court, can go to district court and subsequently the High Court as per civil court procedure.
It allows an aggrieved consumer to move the civil court for claiming ‘monetary compensation,’ which could be five times more than the economic harm suffered. But an aggrieved consumer can only seek the compensation only after the consumer directorate initiates the criminal procedure in the magistrates’ courts. Earlier, aggrieved consumers could directly file damage suits claiming compensations under common law of tort and the much-talked Special Power Act 1974. After enactment of the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009, the aggrieved consumers would need to wait for the consumer directorate to initiate the criminal procedure before they (the consumer) can move the civil court for the monetary compensation. This provides an advantage to the erring sellers and also possibly creates a scope for misuse of the law.
The law lacks the provision to protect the investor in the share market where the small investors suffer quite often due to willful and non-willful negligence of stock exchange and the Security Exchange Commission (SEC). The non-banking finance companies charge very high cost of service and high rate of interest from the investors without intervention from the regulators.
Also buyers from the ever growing big companies in housing and mobile phone service operators need special protection.
There should be alternate dispute resolution (ADR) for quick disposal of small issues. Separate ombudsmen can do it in areas like those of banking, utilities and other disputes through conciliation and arbitration.
Bangladesh’s public sector bodies, selling products and services, should be made accountable under the consumer’s protection law.
A competition law should be enacted immediately to safeguard the consumers by promoting competition in the market.
NGO and individual’s consumer activism and the local government have roles to play to protect the consumer.
Awareness helps a consumer about his or her legal rights and responsibilities. Unless the law is enforced, there can be no protection of the consumer. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the consumer is not exploited by the seller. It is said that consumer is king, but the consumers are real kings if they are empowered with market information, knowledge of their right, responsibility and privileges and in a competitive market, regulated by the government.
There is a demand for amending the consumer protection law to allow the consumers the right to file case directly to the court. No other country denies the consumer this right. Denial of this right to the consumer can only create mis-trust, leading to an unhealthy market. The UN Charter and Consumers International promote the right to satisfaction of basic needs, the right to redress, the right to education, and the right to a healthy environment for optimum benefit of the consumers.
The awareness of consumers and sellers is more important than the right of litigation. There should be a mandatory provision in the consumers protection law to give the responsibility to create the awareness to the proposed National Consumer Right Protection Council and National Consumer Right Protection Directorate.
An overview of the Bangladeshi Laws on the promotion and Protection of consumer rights
The general protection of the consumers may be derived from principles enunciated in Articles- 15x and 18xi of the Constitution. This Articles, though non-justifiable in its nature, indicates the importance attributed to the nutritional status of the people and basic principles and measures for protecting consumers from products, processes and services, which can endanger their health and safety. This constitutional safeguard has been strengthened through promulgation of related laws and regulations so that consumption is proper and appropriate.
Moreover, in the Constitution of Bangladesh some justifiable fundamental rights are incorporated which are connected with the rights of the consumers. As for examples, Article 32 provides that no person shall be deprived of life save in accordance with law; Article 38 provides that every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of morality or public order; Article 40 provides that subject to any restrictions imposed by law, every citizen shall have the right to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation, and to conduct any lawful trade or business. These fundamental rights interalia are enforceable by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in accordance with Article 102 read with Article 44 of the Constitution.
The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 provided both civil and criminal remedies. A consumer is entitled to lodge complain to the Consumer Rights Protection Department for any violation of the Act. The DC‟s of different districts can exercise the same power as given to the department. A consumer although barred from filing a direct complains to the police station under the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 can file a case to the Police station under other Laws.
The Bangladeshi laws provides for the establishments of different organizations to protect the rights of the consumers including various Courts or Tribunals such as-
(i) Consumer Rights Protection Department; (ii) National Consumer Rights Protection Council; (iii) Special Tribunal; (iv) Mobile Court (can work/ function under various Laws; It may be constituted by a special executive order); (v) Drug Court; (vi) Food Special Court; (vii) Ordinary Criminal Courts; (viii) Ordinary Civil Courts; (ix) Marine Courts; (x) BSTI; (xi) Claims Tribunal etc.
Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB)
Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), is a nongovernment, non-political and non-profit voluntary organization. It was established in February 1978. The association plays a vital role in promoting and protecting consumer rights in Bangladesh. Its main goal is to protect the rights and interests of consumers as well as to educate them on about their rights and responsibilities in order to be a wise consumer. CAB provides legal assistance and advice to consumers whose rights have been violated. In essence, CAB is working towards ensuring consumers and businessmen will have a safe, fair and competitive marketplace.
The aims and objectives of CAB:
• To generate awareness amongst the consumers on their internationally recognized rights and responsibilities as consumers.
• Encourage and help develop consumer associations and consumer activist groups at the district and rural levels.
• Provide mediation and legal support to aggrieved consumers.
• Undertake research and studies on consumer issues, challenges and problems.
• Developing understanding and partnerships with different groups, associations, institutions, NGOs and government departments and services in furtherance to the welfare of the general consumers in the country.
• To develop and foster contacts and liaison with the national and international organizations having similar objectives.
• Testing products and services regularly to ensure market place is safe and consumer friendly.
How CAB helps consumers
• CAB has its own complaint cell. An aggrieved consumer, whose right has been violated, may submit a complaint via post, email or in person. After receiving the complaint, CAB investigates the matter and provides redress in the form of settlement through negotiation and mediations between the parties. Legal assistance is sometimes provided to the aggrieved consumers.
• CAB monitors prices of essential goods in the market on regular basis and publishes the price list through media for convenience and knowledge of the consumers.