Each year, member countries of the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC), International Standards Organization (ISO) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) celebrated World Standards Day, on 14 October.

This year, the theme was "International Standards Ensure Positive Change", with objective to ‘Focus on Standards and bring confidence to gov¬ernment, businesses, and consumers, impacting reliability from farm to table, manufacturer to retailer and workplace to home’.

So as per usual practice, Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) also joined the International community to commemorate the International Standards day and went through its usual annual ritual, by printing a two page expensive supplement in leading newspapers of Pakistan.

The supplement, as per tradition, carried messages from the President, Prime Minister, the Federal Minister and Secretary, Science and Technology and the DG PSQCA, with the usual messages of the importance of quality and standards and congratulating PSQCA for a job well done.

However, to put the matter in its right perspective, there was a Letter to the Editor to the editor in the Dawn from a Faheem Khan, stating: “Shiarpur was the centre of trade and commerce, but now it is all history only. In Shikarpur and its surrounding areas sale of substandard goods such as food items, confectionery, stationery, mineral water and even medicines of local companies are common”.

“I request the authorities concerned and the district management to take immediate steps to stop this practice and help the citizens to get rid of such elements which are playing havoc with the lives of the people”.

Unfortunately, this sorry state exists throughout Pakistan and it is now an accepted fact that as PSQCA and other related agencies responsible for monitoring quality and standards have failed to do their job, over 50% of food, beverages and even medicines, including life saving drugs sold in our markets are either adulterated, sub-standard or counterfeit and do not conform to the PSQCA Standards.

According to test reports of samples drawn from the open market of cooking oils and bottled water by PSQCA, over 70% did not conform to the PSQCA standards. Yet, not a single manufacturer, distributor or retailer has been “severely punished” and ministers and government officials have openly admitted that the government and the present judicial system are unable to enforce the rule of law.

Standards are of course very important, as they give both consumers and the relevant government authorities, guidelines for quality control, but only if they are strictly enforced.

They play a vital role in promoting quality, reliability and consistency of industries and provide major benefits not only to the global economy but also to the lives of people around the world.

Standards help organizations meet the customers' needs, while focusing and opti¬mizing company processes. Regulators can use standards as a base for market and consumer-friendly regulations, while con¬sumer protection is also an important social benefit which is being made available to common man through these standards in terms of safety and quality.

The Pakistan government has placed over 46 items on the PSQCA Essential Items list, which include cooking oils, bottled waters, beverages, biscuits, etc. This means that manufacturers of these products must be registered with PSQCA and their products must conform to the PSQCA standards and must carry the PSQCA logo on the package, including the batch number, the date of manufacture and expiry date.

Unfortunately, out of the many brands of cooking oil, bottled water, beverages and biscuits being openly marketed, not all are registered with PSQCA, while most of these manufacturers do not have testing laboratories nor do they comply to the laws which are mandatory.

To regulate and establish global standards, ISO certification was introduced, with the objective of establishing quality management and a process of manufacturing which would produce a quality product. However, it is not a product certification and only certifies the business practices of corporations and is voluntary.

However, the new ISO 9001:2000 standard requires all certified firms to comply with all applicable legal & regulatory requirements that relate to that company’s product/services, e.g. PSQCA standards, the relevant food and drug laws, International Labeling guidelines, etc.

But unfortunately, in many South East Asian and developing countries, where you do not have strong governments and weak consumer protection organizations, standards and quality of products are being compromised and ignored by both manufacturers and governments.

According to information, out of the numerous companies that have been ISO 9001 certified, very few have valid certification and many companies have lost their license due to the failure to have annual inspection or failure to meet the standards.

However, due to the absence of proper checks, they are misusing the logo, by placing the ISO mark on the product, implying that the product is quality assured and that they are certified.

As standards have become symbols for quality and reliability, the government must ensure quality assurance certifications are not misused to market sub-standard and counterfeit products and that the manufacturers maintain the quality and standards on which the certificates were issued. As such, the government must strictly enforce the PSQCA laws and standards - The companies who manufacture products that are on PSQCA’s list, but are not registered with them, should not be allowed to advertise their products on the print and electronic media – The names of those manufacturers and products that do not conform to PSQCA standards should be published in the leading newspapers and circulated to the chambers of commerce and consumer protection bodies.

At the same time, the government must introduce effective Consumer Protection Laws and Consumer Courts in all provinces of Pakistan and educate and support consumer protection organizations and work with them to monitor the quality of products.

Today, Sindh is the only province in Pakistan that does not have Consumer Protection Law or Consumer Courts, despite the fact that the Law was signed by the sitting Governor in 2004, but lapsed because it was never presented to the Sindh Assembly for ratification.

Since then, it has been signed thrice by the Governor, but has lapsed each time for the same reason and because of lack of political will of the government to protect consumers. 

n email: trust@helplinerust.org.