Vibrant consumer organisations needed | Sunday Observer

Vibrant consumer organisations needed

In theory, all business organisations say, consumer satisfaction is their prime objective. If you read the mission or vision statement of any business organisation, you will find it colourfully written. But in reality, does it happen? Whether the consumer really is king in Sri Lanka is a moot point.

We all enjoy marketing and shopping. Whether we like it or not, we spend a lot of time as consumers of goods and services. When we buy goods, eat in a restaurant, travel or seek the help of doctors, engineers or repairmen, we act as consumers.

Often we do not get what we want or seek. In its most vigorous form, our grim experience produces outrage, mostly stemming from the abuse of power by the sellers.This situation holds true in Sri Lanka in a particularly visible form.

This discontent may also arise from unsafe products, dishonoured promises, misrepresentation, deceptive advertising, frauds and failure of communication between buyer and seller.

Complacent customer

Many consumer activists believe, Sri Lankans are a complacent group of consumers.

The average Lankan keeps on complaining about the seller’s attitude but is hesitant to fight against it. This helps the seller to exploit the consumers.

The average ‘educated’ urban consumer says it is due to the lack of time that keeps him away from seeking action, and on many occasions, the value of the transaction is small, so that he tends to ignore it.

This attitude has to be viewed in the light of the practice in developed countries where the seller declares, ‘In case you are not satisfied with our product, you can bring it to us and we will return your money.’ This clearly indicates the level of consumer consciousness.

How could we change this situation? Or, maybe, what can the Government do to improve the position? Generally, the role of the central government in consumer protection is to promote legislative policy and oversee its implementation through various government agencies. Often the actual enforcement of legislation is left to the local authorities.

In the UK, consumerism is strengthened through Citizen Advisory Bureaus, law centres, legal aid activities managed by solicitors and through group and class actions. Israel’s consumers are protected by strict rules formulated by statutory bodies.The Consumer Protection Act in India provides enormous power and protection to consumers via public interest litigation.

Sri Lanka has the Consumer Affairs Authority, which is a powerful statutory body. It is expected to act as the main regulator and ‘watchdog’ of the consumer.

Sri Lankan consumers believe the Authority has not been successful because its powers are not adequately used.

A special consumer court would be necessary to bring about proper legislation by amending the current Act to be more effective and consumer friendly.

Solution

The consumer today is a confused person struggling hard to safeguard his rights. He needs support, in the manner of vibrant and effective consumer organizations.

Now the question is; how to evolve effective consumer organizations and who could do that? The answer is obvious. It has to be a joint effort of consumers, organizations and the government.

What should be done

While accepting the Government’s bounden duty to safeguard consumer interests, the consumers also should realize that they have a role to play in the exercise of their rights and responsibilities. These should be made known to them by consumer organizations.

The organizations should be made strong with the dedicated participation of consumers. Simultaneously, the government should take the consumers into account while making policy decisions.

Consumer meetings should be organized by traders and business houses on open invitation through advertisements published in newspapers and consumers invited to air their complaints and suggestions with regard to the products and services of the company.

Business organizations and consumer bodies should regularly provide information on consumer protection programs to the media, and the latter should publish regular features on consumer affairs so as to promote awareness.

Also, consumer education should be introduced in schools and universities to create consumer awareness among the younger generation. Schools and universities should conduct workshops and seminars on consumer problems, such as deceptive advertisements, food adulteration and environmental pollution.

More information should be provided on existing consumer protection laws in the country, the changing market scenario, globalization and the consumer, as well as activities of the Consumer Affairs Authority.

Consumer organizations should provide counselling and guidance to the consumer, especially on the need to handle complaints, and conduct training programs and workshops on consumer protection.

Consumer organizations should be provided with adequate funds by the central and local governments to undertake these programs. Many developing countries have adapted this system with good results.

Consumer Sovereignty

The nationwide complaints of consumer exploitation that has turned from an academic to epidemic stage needs to be halted. But the consumer himself has to be more aware and active in his defence.

The term Consumer Sovereignty gains meaning and momentum in an economy only when the consumer becomes sovereign and only when he can fulfil his aspirations.

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