In 1985, the UN passed a resolution in favour of consumers, giving them eight basic rights. These include: right of protection, representation, reparation, information, healthy environment, selection, basic necessities and education
Former US President John F Kennedy, in his address to the Congress in 1962 said, “Consumers are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group, whose views are often not heard”. According to two well known Professors, Mr Jerry (Yoram) Wind and Mr. Vijay Mahajan“The consumer is king”.
Consumerism means protection of rights and interests of common buyers, who consume goods at a massive scale. The movement of consumerism first started in the United States in the 20th century with the aim to protect consumers from poor quality goods, bait advertisements, imbalanced prices and faulty services.
In 1985, the UN passed a resolution in favour of consumers, giving them eight basic rights. These include: right of protection, representation, reparation, information, healthy environment, selection, basic necessities and education. All the United Nations member states have now made legislations on consumer rights, including Pakistan where the process of legislation started in 1994.
After a one year discourse, parliament approved the Islamabad Consumer Protection Act 1995 (ICPA 1995) and enacted it in the federal capital territory in 1995. Similarly, provincial assemblies of NWFP (now KPK), Balochistan, and the Punjab passed their separate acts in 1997, 2003 and 2005 respectively. Sindh governor promulgated the Consumer Protection Ordinance in 2004 which lapsed due to lack of interest of the then government. In 2015, Sindh government, however, passed and enacted The Sindh Consumer Protection Act 2014. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government made amendments in Consumer Protection Act 1997 in 2015 and increased the number of consumer courts from seven to 15, but two districts still have no courts. Though consumer protection laws and regulations exist, these have yet to be translated into an efficient consumer redressal mechanism.
It is mandatory upon the federal government to establish a consumer council under ICPA 1995 for the protection of rights and interests of consumers, but unfortunately the dream did not come true even after 21 years of the passage of the act.
In Punjab, 11 consumer courts and consumer councils are functioning, but a big number of consumers are still being exploited by service providers, manufacturers and shopkeepers. Since enactment of legislationin 2005, only 58,861 cases have been filed, out of these 49,457 cases are being disposed of. The consumer courts in the province are operational at divisional level and a single court has to handle cases from more than two districts. More distance between the court and hometown means the consumer has to bear a higher opportunity cost to get compensation.
Another factor causing violation of consumer rights is the lack of awareness in consumers about their rights. During a survey, it was learnt that a few number of people were aware of their rights, consumer councils and consumer courts. District consumer councils are legally bound to create awareness about the protection of consumer rights, but sadly they have failed to fulfil their responsibility. Though a number of awareness campaigns were launched in this regard, these had very limited influence due to faulty marketing strategy. In the age of print, electronic and social media, the councils’ failure to utilise these tools, which is not less than a crime and turning a blind eye on consumers’ welfare.
In India, a separate ministry is working for the protection and promotion of consumer rights. The ministry is running a campaign on electronic media title “Jago Grahak Jago” to spread awareness among consumers. Another problem with our state machinery is that the judges/magistrates of the consumer courts are not specialised in consumerism. A major shortcoming is that federal as well as provincial governments have no comprehensive policy for the protection and promotion of consumer rights.
There is a need to review the whole system and consumer laws to make necessary amendments for the protection and promotion of consumer rights
There is a need to review the whole system and consumer laws to make necessary amendments for the protection and promotion of consumer rights. Moreover, some of the key terms like complaint, complainant, consumers and services hamper the consumers to lodge a complaint because these definitions don’t give a cover to most of the complainants (consumers). There is an urgent need to redefine these terms.
Besides, our government needs to learn from good practices like setting up of National-Consumer Helpline (in the case of India), usage of electronic and social media for spreading awareness because only an aware consumer can become an empowered consumer, appointmentof an honest and impartial person as chairperson of the provincial councils, expansion of consumer courts at tehsil level and online judicial system. Last but not least, the federal government should devise a comprehensive policy on consumerism with the collaboration of provinces under the guidelines of United Nations, Consumer International and local consumer protection organisations.