Monday, 18 July 2022

Consumer protection law

 The growing interdependence of the world economy and international character of many business practices have contributed to the development of universal emphasis on consumer rights protection and promotion. Consumers, clients and customers world over, are demanding value for money in the form of quality goods and better services. Modern technological developments have no doubt made a great impact on the quality, availability and safety of goods and services. But the fact of life is that the consumers are still victims of unscrupulous and exploitative practices. Exploitation of consumers assumes numerous forms such as adulteration of food, spurious drugs, dubious hire purchase plans, high prices, poor quality, deficient services, deceptive advertisements, hazardous products, black marketing and many more. In addition, with revolution in information technology newer kinds of challenges are thrown on the consumer like cyber crimes, plastic money etc., which affect the consumer in even bigger way. ‘Consumer is sovereign’ and ‘customer is the king’ are nothing more than myths in the present scenario particularly in the developing societies. However, it has been realized and rightly so that the Consumer protection is a socio- economic programme to be pursued by the government as well as the business as the satisfaction of the consumers is in the interest of both. In this context, the government, however, has a primary responsibility to protect the consumers’ interests and rights through appropriate policy measures, legal structure and administrative framework.

Consumers participate in the marketplace by using a particular product. Had there been no consumer no company would exist. The status of consumer is more or less pathetic as far as consumer rights are concerned. You can take examples of shopkeepers weighing less than he should, company’ making false claims on packs. Then there are local sweetmeat sellers adulterating raw materials to produce the laddoos or barfis. You can recall the case of dropsy because of adulterated mustard oil. No matter how bad quality you get, chances are you will get a rude response from the shopkeeper if you dare to complain.

According to McMillan Dictionary (1985) “Consumerism is concerned with protecting consumers from all organizations with which there is exchanged relationship. It encompasses the set of activities of government, business, independent organizations and concerned consumers that are designed to protect the rights of consumers”. In the good olden days the principle of ‘Caveat emptor’, which meant buyer beware governed the relationship between seller and the buyer. In the era of open markets buyer and seller came face to face, seller exhibited his goods, and buyer thoroughly examined them and then purchased them. It was assumed that he would use all care and skill while entering into transaction. The maxim relieved the seller of the obligation to make disclosure about the quality of the product. In addition, the personal relation between the buyer and the seller was one of the major factors in their relations. But with the growth of trade and its globalization the rule no more holds true. It is now impossible for the buyer to examine the goods before hand and most of the transactions are concluded by correspondence. Further on account of complex structure of the modern goods, it is only the producer / seller who can assure the quality of goods. With manufacturing activity becoming more organized, the producers / sellers are becoming stronger and organised whereas the buyers are still weak and unorganised. In the age of revolutionized information technology and with the emergence of e-commerce related innovations the consumers are further deprived to a great extent. As a result buyer is being misled, duped and deceived day in and day out. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nation, attached great importance to what he described as the “poor consumer”, who according to him should be the principal beneficiary of the consumer movement. He said: “A Consumer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us we are on him. He is not an interruption to our work; he is the purpose of it.

Historical Background of Consumer Rights

History of protection of Consumer’s rights by law has long been recognised dating back to 1824. Every year the 15th of March is observed as the World Consumer Rights Day. On that day in 1962 President John F. Kennedy of U.S. called upon the U.S. Congress to accord its approval to the Consumer Bill of Rights. They are:

  1. Right to choice

  2. Right to information

  3. Right to safety and

  4. Right to be heard.

President Gerald R. Ford added one more right i.e. right to consumer education. Further other rights such as right to healthy environment and right to basic needs (Food, Clothing and Shelter) were added. In India we have recently started celebrating 24th December every year as the National Consumer Rights Day. In the history of the development of consumer policy, April 9, 1985 is a very significant date for it was on that day that the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a set of general guidelines for consumer protection and the Secretary General of the United Nations was authorised to persuade member countries to adopt these guidelines through policy changes or law. These guidelines constitute a comprehensive policy framework outlining what governments need to do to promote consumer protection in following seven areas:

  1. Physical safety;

  2. Protection and Promotion of the consumer economic Interest;

  3. Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and Services;

  4.  Distribution facilities for consumer goods and services;

  5. Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress;

  6. Measures relating to specific areas (food, water and pharmaceuticals) and 

  7. Consumer education and information programme.

Though not legally binding, the guidelines provide an internationally recognised set of basic objectives particularly for governments of developing and newly independent countries for structuring and strengthening their consumer protection policies and legislations. These guidelines were adopted recognizing that consumers often face imbalances in economic terms, educational levels and bargaining power and bearing in mind that consumers should have the right of access to non hazardous products as well as the importance of promoting just, equitable and sustainable economic and social development. These U.N. guidelines for Consumer Protection can assist in the identification of priorities particularly in the light of emerging trends in a globalised and liberalised world economy.

The U.N. guidelines were never intended to be a static document and required to be revisited in the changed social, political and economic circumstances. On reexamination of U.N. guidelines in 1999 “sustainable consumption” was also included in the list which is certainly an important step in this direction. It would perhaps be apt to highlight that long back Mahatma Gandhi said that” the rich must live more simply so that the poor may simply live.” There cannot be a better expression championing the cause of sustainable consumption. It may not be out of place to mention that the increased internationalisation of cooperation is also a part of the globalisation process. Rules adopted for corporations trading in OECD countries for the protection of the interests of consumers can now also be applied to their conduct for the protection of the interests of the consumers in non-OECD countries. A new investment guideline from the OECD spells out principles to be applied by multinational corporations dealing with consumers. The Guidelines, which deal with fair business, marketing and advertising practices as well as safety and quality of goods and services lend themselves to consumer monitoring and campaigning. Possibilities for action include twinning arrangements in which groups from non- OECD countries work with groups from the home countries of multinational corporations to hold them accountable for failure to adhere to the Guidelines.

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