World Consumer Day which falls today (15) is a time for celebration, activism, and solidarity, among the consumer and consumer organizations worldwide.
World Consumer Day originated in 1983 and subsequently consumer rights gained international recognition and legitimacy when guidelines set by the United Nations were adopted. On March 15th 1962 John F Kennedy announced that consumers, by definition, were the largest economic group that effect and are affected by almost every private and public economic decision made, yet they are the only important group whose views are often not heard.
Today things have changed, as in the “West” the consumer is both organised and powerful. World Consumer Day is a day to celebrate and acknowledge the strength and power of the consumer. Seminars, workshops and shows of activism give a sense of power and strength to the consumer. In this context, today’s junk food generation has come in for much discussion and the adverse effects of junk food on the health of the human beings-especially children- has been a popular and important topic of discussion on a day such as today. Some topics chosen for discussion on this day in the past were Unethical Drug Promotion (2007), GM Food (2005) Consumers and Water (2004) and Control of Food Chain (2003).
The fact that the same topic, Junk Food, has been taken up for discussion consecutively for two years indicates the importance of the issue. Twenty-two million children around the world are already overweight. Children are often targeted by multinational organisations for their commercials and promotions. As a result there is a long-felt need to urge the world to introduce an international code of conduct when marketing unhealthy food items directed at children.
World Consumer Day focuses on initiatives, planned functions and projects carried out by consumer organisations on every continent. This takes the shape of special campaigns press conferences, exhibitions, workshops, publications and similar events targeting consumerism. There are websites, Magazines, books, and
on-going activities promoting the rights of the citizen. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka there is less activism in this regard leaving the consumer at the mercy of errant traders and industrialists who continue to exploit them freely.
The Consumer is defined in the Consumer Affairs Authority Act No 9 of 2003, as “any actual user of any goods or services made available for a consideration by a trader or manufacturer” which is a unique and a broader definition from the common law perspective. In a literal sense, a consumer is “one who preachers goods or services” (Longman Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Ed.) (Harlow: Longman1991) For the purpose of the English consumer protection law, the term consumer has narrower meaning which is based on the capacity in which the consumer and the supplier of the goods have acted. Until the introduction of the CAA act of 2003-hereafter known as the Act, by replacing Consumer Protection Act, no 1 of 1979, Fair Trading Commission Act No 1 of 1987, and the Control of Prices Act (Chapter 173), consumerism in Sri Lanka was primarily governed by principles of English Law which desires to provide for better protection of consumers through the regulation of trade and the prices of goods and services and to protest against traders and manufacturers, against unfair trade practices and restrictive trade practices and promoting competitive pricing wherever possible and ensure healthy competition among traders and manufactures of goods and services. This is a complete transformation of the principle and procedure of price control to Regulation and Competitive trade, which is a mixture of how the US, Australian and European models work.
The definition covers actual and potential users of goods and services which gives a further and broader meaning and an area including every citizen worldwide in the definition who is a potential consumer in this competitive and developed world. The standard perception of a consumer is of an individual purchaser of goods or services and in most cases it will be the case. Most of the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act, 1974 (CCA) (UK) only apply where the debtor is an individual under English Law, and generally a non-business purchaser. In the Sri Lankan context “any actual user “could be a company or a juristic personality. In the UK much of the legislation can be regarded as being directed towards fair trading rather than consumer protection. Many modern consumer protection measures no longer require proof of fraud. A trader can be found guilty of a criminal offence without proof of criminal intent.
“CAA- Consumer Affairs Authority - the Main Regulator in Sri Lanka”
The main legislations on consumerism in Sri Lanka before and during the introduction of the Act - some of which are replaced, amended, and replaced were the Consumer Protection Act, Fair Trading Commission Act, Control of Prices Act, Trademarks Ordinance, Prisons, Opium, and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, Control of Prices Ordinance, Weights and Measures Ordinance, Food and Drugs Act, Control of Prices Act, Food Control Act, Licensing of Traders Act, Bureau of Ceylon Standards, National Prices Commission Law, Consumer Protection Act, Code of Intellectual Property Act, Petroleum Products Act, Food Act, Cosmetic Devices and Drugs Act, Consumer Credit Act, Sri Lanka Standards Institution Act, Fair Trading Commission Act, Measurement United Standards and Services Act, Unfair Contract Terms Act. Today the concept of price control is replaced by regulatory powers where it is controlled by regulation, indirect means and competition. How far and whether this is a success is a moot issue.
“Are We At The “Doorsteps Of The Digital Age?”
Consumer International selects timely topics in the process of activism for consumers worldwide. It was fix your phones right, healthy dilates in 2015 and antibiotic resistance in 2016, which were current and timely then. The world is fast approaching the digital age with 3 billion citizens worldwide going online daily, which is 30% of the world population. Sri Lanka presently has 23 million mobile phones, 5 million internet users and 3.5 million people using facebook, which is close to international standards, when almost every citizen possesses a mobile phone and with a substantial decrease in the number of landlines. Online shopping on sites such as E-Bay and Amazon is growing fast with an enormous future potential predicted. Meanwhile, consumerism in Sri Lanka is lagging behind with no amendments being made to the Consumer Affairs’ Authority Act now considered to be archaic with no changes or improvements being made to it since 2003, with a question mark remaining on the legal protection provided by the main regulator in the country. Online shopping, credit cards, local digital platforms and worldwide platforms such as eBay, and major players are freely available in Sri Lanka with the clientèle increasing fast unnoticed and untouched by the traditional regulatory procedures in the absence of a mechanism and lack of knowledge of the Sri Lankan regulators in the dark on the digital age.
“Building A Digital World the Consumer Can Trust-Theme of 2017”
CAA is the main regulator in the country on consumerism responsible for regulating the quality, standards, prices, and access to consumer items and services at a reasonable price without poisonous and hazardous matter and providing services of accepted standards to the consumer freely, through regulatory powers. This mechanism is important as it involves the future, health, wealth and the existence of the nation.
In 2017 with the theme “Building A Digital World the Consumer Can Trust” we hope the momentum that was gathered by the programme planned during this period would continue till next year. We wish and pray that all the parties concerned, namely the consumer, trader, manufacturer, industrialist, and the State (CAA and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs) will work hand in hand realizing and aiming at their honourable aims and objectives in making the consumer happy and satisfied.
Developing consumer trust is an arduous task in the highly complicated digital era. Digital Storms are blowing away the human mind which is the most advanced computer now depending on artificial intelligence and advanced digital technological developments. We are at the door steps of the modern digital transforming the entire style on the modern advanced systems and innovations in all areas of human life. Consumers are inadequately protected by traditional safeguards provided by respective legal systems worldwide and out-dated regulatory powers in Sri Lanka incapable of meeting the modern challenges in the digital e-com age. Consumer trust will be developed with the modern trends with the success of a mechanism which is not introduced yet meeting the new trends needs and requirements. For example the world and local e-sale-business transactions platforms have their own regulatory powers and remedies due to ferocious competition and self-regulation to safeguard their present and future customers/ consumers in the hands of their mercy.
Sections 7,8, 9,10,12,13,15,16,17,18,19,21,22,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,34,35,36, 39,45, of the act which deal with the operational and conceptual matters have to be adopted/amended to meet the current challenges and a discussion and complete overhaul of the act and the working procedure is an urgent necessity to meet the digital challenges.
“Way Forward For The Happiness And The Satisfaction Of The Consumer”
In the United Kingdom magazine “Which” media, Citizen Advice Bureaux, Legal Aid System, Consumer organizations, NGOs with the State are protecting the consumer with the network of the consumer organizations and consumer groups. Citizen is used to look upon which magazine for directions and information which is a medium for information, advice and guidance, available to the citizen. The European Union spreads it’s tentacles over the member countries in safeguarding consumer by/through directions. Consumerism in India is organized and powerful with governmental support, legislation, legal system and separate Consumer Courts for implementation with the Judiciary favouring public interest litigations and class actions as in USA and UK even against giant multinational Cola, and Junk food Chains poisoning and making the entire world potential patents. Consumerism and consumer protection models are organized and effective in the Socialist Block and the Commonwealth with different legal systems. There is uniformity in the Commonwealth including Canada, Australia, with similar legal systems and it’s Sri Lankan model is a mixture of Australian, UK, models and European concepts. The Consumer is powerful and considered to be a King in other parts of the world able to flex muscles on the parties concerned for just and fair treatment on consumerism, with the adage “Consumer is always Right” practised in the competitive trade. It is a satisfactory trend that the CAA, IPS and Consumer Organization led by powerful activists have organized events with the participation of Mr “Satya” representing the World Consumer Federation based in the United Kingdom and we hope a new chapter and a trend will emerge as a result with the influence and participation of the Consumer International , State, Trader, Industrialist, and the Consumer with a joint and consorted effort achieving happiness and satisfaction of the consumer badly in need of assistance. We hope and pray Sri Lanka will have the strength and vision to set up a network of consumer organizations, a proper legal mechanism with amendments to meet the modern challenges, with the concept “alert consumer and just trader”, to work with all concerned parties namely consumer, trader, industrialist and the state hand in hand in the interest of the citizen deserves closer attention.
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