Posted on April 16th, 2018

Sarath wijesinghe – Former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority

Groups of laws designed to ensure the rights of the consumer

Principles of consumer affairs is applied locality and universally in different jurisdictions depending on circumstances worldwide for the citizens and the business community depending on the different kinds of trade practices. In open economy it is based on consumer law, company Law, Hire Purchase, Competition law and connected areas with the government policy, economy, governance and the political situations with the underlining feature of protecting the consumer and the trader/industrialist and the regulator. System in the USA is vibrant with freedom to interested parties for consumer activism via media and public interest litigation. In Russia, China and the socialist block it is somewhat different depending on the economic and political circumstances and changes. President John Kennedy who was a proponent for a powerful consumer movement said in 1962 at the Consumer International that a main neglected group in the society is the consumer and they should be organized, encouraged and looked after showing a special interest encouraging Consumer International in their worldwide campaign to encourage organized consumer movement. Today it has penetrated the entire world with many projects including the world consumer day celebrated worldwide encouraging the consumer organizations. Americans are highest consumers in the world throwing out 200,000 edible food every day, using 300 shopping bags for consumer items and raw materials per week, consuming 1/3 of paper, 1/4 of oil, and 23% for coal from the world share, and using more miles than the rest the world taken together yet not satisfied, but possessing a vibrant consumer movement with excessive consumerism. Case law and the jurisprudence are full of cases on consumer issues and class actions of high values. Americans are the leading consumers who are leaders of the consumer movement and the literature/activism on the subject.

United Kingdom – a well-developed consumer regime

United Kingdom has a well-developed consumer regime fully backed by the State institutions such as DTI Department of Trade and Industry Oft Office of fair trading and much other state, private and voluntary organizations including media and activist groups. Department of Trade and Industry is the state institution in dealing with consumer affairs along with the other assignments on trade and industry. It protects consumer rights, fair trading, probe on contracts and dealing with trader and the consumer, with links with government and private sector acting as the initiator, moderator, and regulator in consumer

affairs successfully with the private and non-governmental organizations with the office of fair trading which is also an active body on the same direction. Citizens advice Bureau, Law canters and federation, Legal aid Scheme with the network of Solicitor, Ombudsman and Ombudsman Association, Consumer Line, number of websites on the system, Trade enforcement bureau, Gov.Uk guidance, Law Center network, awareness testing, consumer safety and WHICH consumer magazine and number of organizations and websites with the network of consumer organizations are a part of the battalion in assisting the consumer to redress the due rights and the State and the business community for a better consumer regime to help development in trade industry and fair trade. Consume magazine WHICH” is a leading arm of the consumer organization with 5730000 subscribers managing without any assistance from the Government or international organization as a leading organization directing and assisting the consumer, trader and the state in the sphere of consumer practice. Active media name and shame and self-discipline due to excessive competition in local and international trade are a contributory factor on discipline consumer regime in the United Kingdom. Sri Lanka followed the British Model until 2003 and currently a mixture of British, Australian, and EU modeled pickle.

India with a huge population maintains a reasonable consumer regime

India with a huge population maintains the standards of fair consumer practice with the help of the Judiciary, active organizations and joint efforts and ventures on consumer education which is prevalent countrywide. The main consumer protection act of 1986 is effective and exhaustive supported by the judiciary in matters of public interest litigation on consumer related actions like Bopal Tragerdy” which is an eye opener and a catalyst to group the consumers together. Consumer Courts set up countrywide gives redness to the initiation starters of the campaign with strength by the activists and lawyers with sympathetic eye of Supreme Court Judges and chief Justices who led the process the development of the jurisprudence followed by many countries including USA, Sri Lanka and other commonwealth jurisdictions. Indian consumerism agitation is very active on the internet and digitization and modern technology has made number of changes in consumerism that has led to Cyber revolution USA and western links.

Socialist world

Consumerism and consumer attention in the Socialist world is not progressive as in the west due to different political and economic approaches always in favor of the consumer. In Russia it says the consumer confidence is growing and the state is presumed to look after the interests of the consumer on existing legislature when market economy is slowly approaching the economy. In China it is somewhat different being the second largest economy with drastic changes and the boom in the international market improving the lives of average consumer in positive directions. There are large impacts on the consumer on large scale multinational company’s such as ALI-BABA” which is the largest online giant in the world threatening the banks transforming the consumerism pattern in the country

which is changing fast. There is no agitation from the consumer due to the economic boom and the unprecedented developments and economic progress. Chinese products have made many changes in consumerism worldwide due to excessive supply of Chinese goods, especially in the developing world where consumer items enter freely with less restrictions and standards.

Latin American consumer revolution

Argentina Brazil and the other Latin American countries are going through a rapid transformation on the digital technology where the inclination for the online sale and modern consumerism is thriving. After prolonged economic instability Argentina is fast recovering with the development programs including the consumer activism and confidence. Brazil is a nation with 206.6 the 5th largest population and 7th largest economy with 7.1 trillion GDP exporting 189.1 billion worth of consumer gods. Most purchases are on credit and online platforms are thriving with invasion of international platforms. Chile population has 50% electric al items, and 68% purchase is on credit cards and loyal to branded consumer items spending 12% for smart phones. Consumer Association in Bangladesh is nongovernmental but has controlled by the ministry of Commerce, moving right to life, right to safe goods in line with Indian modeled system which is followed in Pakistan too with the consumer council and the ministry of commerce on the apex. There is a common feature in the modern consumerism all over the world on inclination towards digitalization and modern ways and approaches on the consumer and trade as a whole. Smart phones and the digital influence with the ripple effects of modern technology have transformed the entire outlook of the traditional consumerism to a modern trend with credit card, hire purchase, digital banking and depending on banks and digital transfer of funds mostly on credit making the consumer indebted.

Consumerism in Sri Lanka Changes and Way Out

Consumerism in Sri Lanka is comparatively at the lowest ebb when the other countries are progressing on the consumer trends with the developments and modern changes. The Consumer Affairs Authority act no 9 of 2003 is static and stagnant with no progress or changes after 15 years of existence with little or no developments and consumer is not protected or considered an integral part of the society. CAA is not in a position to find solutions or suggestions for high cost of living, contaminated water, poisonous food, consumer items of inferior quality and high prices, despite the accusations and agitations by the consumer to implement the regulations and enforcement of legal structure with the rest of the regulator with enormous powers and the funds available by the state and way of fines from the trader and industrialist. Prizes of consumer items are soaring due to the weak structure of the main regulator and the inefficiency and inactivity of the other regulators such as Public Health Inspector, Local authorities, Ombudsman, Telecom and other regulators, and the ministry of commerce pressed with many other political and activist work with Nolan or vision for the consumer and the

Trade in general. Despite all the odds the digitalization is fast spreading in Sri Lanka with 23 million smarts phones, internet, and the advanced technology embraced by the young generation and the business community fully influenced by the digital developments and platforms invading fast with credit cards and other modern modes of payments locally and internationally. Modern applications such as Wober” (In USA,UK and Sri Lanka), Whats App, Pick me, Ali Baba, Amazon, and many devices are fast flowing into the system with no restrictions with fast developments of social media such as Face Book and similar application that has revalorized the trade and consumerism to a different level in par with the rest of the world with less protection in to the consumer and trade in general which is a very unsatisfactory situation to a country press with debits under development and political instability. Therefore it is time to rethink and revisit the consumer regime for a more Sri Lankan friendly model.

(All reading materials are by the author who is the former Ambassador to UAE and Israel and a former Chairman of the Consumer affairs who can be contacted on sarath7@hotmail.co.uk – Making digital marketing fairer – Mirror/ Consumer rights in a digital world Mirror/Building a digital world the consumer will trust- Mirror/How to build consumer trust in digitalization / Sri Lanka Guardian and many articles could be retrieved from the web under name of the author’s name)

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