In continuation to my previous article on the awareness of consumer rights, I would like to add new concepts to enhance the knowledge of the worthy readers. Irrespective of being generally aware of the wrong that is happening around us, there exist a set of rights similar to the fundamental norms as enshrined in the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan.

These rights were initially recognised by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 when the Bill for Consumer Rights was moved in the US Congress. During his speech, the President had remarked: “If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and national interest suffers.” The four basic rights highlighted in his speech were:

i    The right to safety - to be protected against the marketing of goods that are hazardous to health or life.

i    The right to choose - to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices: and in those industries where competition is not workable and government regulation is substituted, an assurance of satisfactory quality and service at fair prices.

i    The right to information - to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful or grossly misleading information, advertising, labeling, or other practices, and to be given the facts she/he needs to make an informed choice.

i    The right to be heard - to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of government policy, and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.

Almost 50 years back, President Kennedy “had equated the rights of the ordinary American consumer with national interest.” He knew that the consumers were the largest economic group in the country’s economy, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision.

Next, the Consumers International (CI), the former International Organisation of Consumer Unions (IOCU), the umbrella body, for 240 organisations in over 100 countries, expanded the charter of consumers rights contained in the US bill to eight, and those are: “the right to have basic need, the right to safety, the right to information, the right to choose, the right to representation in a court of law, the right to redressal of grievances, the right to consumer education and above all, the right to have a healthy environment.” This charter had a universal significance, as they symbolised the aspirations of the poor and disadvantaged. On this basis, the United Nations in April 1985 adopted its Guidelines for Consumer Protection. This highlights the significance of numerous rights that we generally enjoy. Unfortunately, either we do not have the will or the spirit to counter all the negative forces present around us.

Similarly, the Punjab Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (PCPA 2005) is a potent law that, if utilised by the consumers, can play a vital role in achieving the above mentioned goals. More so, a consumer court that is working in Riwaz Garden near Chauburji is easily accessible for the general public and the staffers are ever ready to help. A case decided by this court is of significant importance. The petitioner purchased a packet of peanut biscuits from a general store that was made by a local reputable brand. While consuming from this packet, a hair was found from a biscuit that naturally caused severe discomfort to the petitioner. The court after completing the procedure found that the manufacturer was liable for selling unhygienic food item, which is dangerous for human consumption. The biscuit manufacturing company was fined Rs 25,000 and additional Rs 10,000 was paid as the other winning party’s lawyer’s fee. Indeed, this should ring bells about the numerous similar violations happening around us.

It is time to realise the significance of the matter at hand and rise to the occasion; it is also time to bring about a change!

n    The writer is a practicing barrister and advocate of the High Courts of Pakistan and an alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) organised by the US Department of State. He is also the founding Chairman of the International Law Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHBA).