STRAIGHT TALK

15th of March is commemorated by consumer rights organisations all over the world as World Consumer Rights Day.

The day is commemorated by organising seminars, debates, walks, TV talk shows, etc., which highlight the rights of consumers and other consumer-related issues along with the demand that these rights are respected and protected.

It is also a day to highlight the abuse of these rights by way of misleading, deceptive, and unethical market practices, lack of legislation and regulatory framework. This year’s theme was “Building digital world-consumers can trust”.  In every country, consumers are at the core of all business operations and their interests have to be kept paramount. Manufacturers and service providers have to tailor their operations and provide consumers with quality products and services, in a manner that is profitable, yet ethical, so as to satisfy all stakeholders.

Thus consumers are treated with the respect they deserve, as they have the power to make or break a brand. Whether it is the government, giant corporations or small manufacturers, when consumer organisations raise a consumer- related issue, it is taken seriously and appropriate action is taken by these entities to rectify the situation.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, consumer protection is still a distant dream and the main reason is that, none, including the government, the judiciary and the media, is interested in protecting the interests of consumers.

At the same time, even the consumers are not aware of their rights and the biggest enemy of the consumers in Pakistan, are the consumers themselves, as they are neither aware nor interested in protesting and demanding their rights. And unfortunately as per practice, World Consumer Rights Day goes unnoticed in Pakistan. Consumers constantly complain about escalating prices, sub-standard, spurious and adulterated products and services, yet fail to lodge a complaint or take effective action. They forget that consumers are full time citizens.

News items and features affecting consumer interests are not highlighted and the government and judiciary have failed to protect the rights and interests of the consumers. As such, consumers feel helpless and vulnerable. Due to the lack of political will, there are only three consumer protection laws in Pakistan, one in Islamabad, which was passed by the National Assembly in 1995, one in Balochistan and one in Punjab, which was introduced in 2004.

Consumer Protection Ordinance, Sindh, was prepared by a committee, set up by the sitting governor Sindh, after examining and studying consumer laws in the region and was signed by him on 12th August 2004, but was never presented before the Sindh Assembly for ratification and lapsed three times.

However, Ms Sharmila Faruqui, Special Assistant and Minister for Culture and Tourism, Sindh had presented the Consumer Protection Ordinance Sindh in Sindh Assembly, which unanimously passed the Sindh Consumer Protection Bill 2014.

All these laws clearly define the guidelines to protect consumer interests, but as we are a lawless country, we lack the will to enforce even these laws and they have been totally ignored, both by the manufacturers and even the government.

In developed countries and even those in our region, consumer protection is a serious business, especially in India, where the government has given full support to protect the consumers. The Consumer Protection Act, India was introduced in 1986 and a separate Ministry for Consumer Affairs was established, which has been very pro active in protecting the interests of the consumers.  

As such, there are over 2000 consumer courts that deal with approximately 5 lac consumer complaints annually, providing speedy justice and redress to consumer complaints within 30 days.

This positive action by the government has had a tremendous impact in terms of promoting quality and standards and in protecting consumers. Now there are over 2000 consumer protection organisations operating in India.  Due to the lack of Consumer Protection Laws and enforcement of existing Food and Drug Laws, we have become a ‘number doe (2)’ nation and Pakistan has become a dumping ground for semi expired and counterfeit food, beverages and medicines.

As such, our markets are flooded with these products and this has also affected our exports and tarnished our image in the international markets.

Unless consumers break the culture of silence, we will continue to be poisoned by adulterated, spurious and sub-standard products. Therefore, it is time to end this harmful culture and to collectively demand consumer protection laws.

To safeguard consumer rights, Helpline Trust has started mobilizing public opinion, civil action, lobbying and court actions, as tools for change.

The Trust has aimed and designed its efforts and actions to persuade and influence those in government, industry and civil society and have demanded positive contributions from individuals and institutions.

To focus on these consumer issues once more, Helpline Trust organised its annual seminar, in collaboration with Consumer Eye, to commemorate the World Consumers Rights Day, on 15th March, 2017 at the Marriott Hotel, Karachi.

The objective of the seminar was to stress the need for effective and functional consumer protection laws, consumer courts and a Consumer Protection Council.

This will hopefully ensure the enforcement of existing food and PSQCA laws and promote quality, standards and good manufacturing practice, so that citizens could receive quality products at a fair price.

The event covered a wide range of topics relating to consumer protection laws, CSR, GMP, promoting quality and standards and the role of consumer protection organisations in monitoring and enforcing these laws and standards.

It was Victor Hugo who said: “All the armies in the world cannot stop the march of an idea whose time has come”. The time of consumer protection has come in Pakistan and it is up to us, The Consumers, to become active soldiers in a battle to improve the quality of products and services in Pakistan.

There is an old Chinese saying: “It is better to light a candle, then to rage at the darkness”. Let us hope that this seminar will be a candle that will become a beacon of light and will help in establishing Consumer Laws and Consumer Rights in Pakistan. JAGO SARFEEN JAGO.

 (Email: trust@helplinetrust.org.pk).