Consumer Rights in Bangladesh


Consumer Rights in Bangladesh

Introduction

The existence of law in a country is to protect the welfare of its citizens, their rights and to preserve a safe and secure society, where different major factors such as education, security, stability and also factors such as economic factors in a country contribute to the betterment of its citizens and help them live a better and more healthy life as they head towards advancement towards a better and more peaceful society. Due to the massive growth of consumerism, that comes out of a capitalist society, now it’s more than ever eminent and vital that proper control be established, so that in the pursue of rapid growth and accumulation of wealth, people do not cross limits that would harm others to the extent of reaping benefits and hence at the same time depriving the very people they are reaping from while depriving them of their rights, and their share of the bargain. In much of the existence of capitalist society in this world, a balance is necessary, and so has many countries opted for consumer rights, so as to preserve the rights for the vast majority of population who are at the receiving end, the consumers of the society. Very often the suppliers of products are so keen on making profits, and beating their ever increasing number of competitors with limited supply, they end up compromising on their very products that they manufacture, compromising in quality, so much so, it can be detrimental to the health or safety of its consumers and also deprive them of greater benefits which they otherwise would have obtained for what they are paying for.

Thus comes the necessity for introducing consumer rights in different parts of the world, including Bangladesh, which falls under the very law of preserving the welfare of the society in this country. This can help in making sure the rights of the people are being preserved, who are at the receiving end of a purchase. This is also puts limitations, and requirements on the side of the producer, so that they come with adequate quality while ensuring the safety of the consumers of their products. Consumer protection laws are designed to ensure fair competition and the free flow of truthful information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors and may provide additional protection for the weak and those unable to take care of themselves. Consumer Protection laws for preserving consumer rights are a form of government regulation which aim to protect the interests of consumers. [1]

To keep the businesses in the economy profitable and legal which being ethical for society, some policies have been established by the government to create a balance between profit and quality. Such policies are largely about goods and services, supplied to the consumers or customers, who wish to purchase or hire goods and/or services from the sellers or manufacturers.  There are three pillars of consumer policy; namely, Consumer legislation and regulation, Consumer representation, and finally Empowerment of individual consumer. [2]

Body

While many countries of the world are acknowledging the importance of good service, here in Bangladesh unfortunately, we are often forgetful of consumer rights.[3] Nearby countries such as India, Sri Lanka,  Nepal and Malaysia have extensive consumer protection legislation that is successfully executed and ensures the access to justice. They have established a separate court for consumers so that if there is any violation of consumer protection law then the consumers can directly bring action through that court.[4]

In the least developed world countries, the most important consumer right is the right to satisfy basic needs. Some of the legal foundations for consumer protection in Bangladesh that attaches the highest to the nutritional state of people and to measures for protection of consumers from products, processes and services which are hazardous to their health were enacted pre-1971 the year of independence of Bangladesh, and others have been recently promulgated although in the latter case all of the laws is yet to be fully implemented. [5]

Some of the existing laws of Bangladesh for consumer protection still in place and are mentioned in the following sections.

Consumer protection in Bangladesh is referred in Articles 15 and 18 of the Constitution. Article 15 deals with the provision of basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, right to work, right to work at reasonable wages, quantity and quality of work, social security etc. Article 18 deals with public health and morality, like preventing the consumption of alcoholic and other intoxicating drinks and of drugs, which are injurious to health.

In addition there are other numerous provisions of consumer law, which have been enacted from time to time. For example, the Control of Essential Commodity Act, 1956 has given power to the government to control the production, distribution, preservation, use, and business etc. of certain essential commodities for which a license/ permit is a must.

With regard to maintaining the quality of food such as flour, oil, ghee, etc. the Department of Public Health has been entrusted with the duty of inspection and examination of the quality of foodstuff under the Pure Food Ordinance 1959. This Ordinance also prohibits persons with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, from involvement in manufacturing/preparation of such food items.

The Price and Distribution of Essential Commodity Ordinance, 1970 was enacted to ensure the right price so that the importers, producers and the businessmen may not be able to earn unjust profits.

The Drug Control Ordinance 1982 empowered Government to establish control over manufacture, import, distribution and sale of drugs. This enactment makes provisions for constituting a Drugs Control Committee, which is known as Drug Administration. Without its permission no drug can be manufactured for sale or be imported or distributed. In case of manufacturing of drugs, the firms are advised to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

The Breast Milk Substitute (Regulation of Marketing) Ordinance 1984 states that nobody is allowed to promote the use of any breast milk substitute or give any impression that breast milk substitute is better than breast-feeding. That will amount to an offence. The Ordinance has also made it mandatory to inscribe that “there is no substitute to breast-feeding” on the package of the substitute.

Further on October 27, 1988 Bangladesh has joined anti-smoking campaign. The aim of such campaign is to reduce the use of tobacco. Sellers and manufacturers are instructed to give warning on the tobacco packet as “smoking is injurious to health”. Without this caution they are not allowed to display or advertise any tobacco product.

Apart from these Ordinances there are some additional legislative provisions giving protection to consumer interests. For example: Section 272 of the Penal Code, 1860 prohibits any food or drink to be adulterated. Section 274 also imposes restriction on adulteration of any drug or medical preparation. Section 482 provides restrictions on any false trademark or any false property trademark. Section 267 provides restrictions on false statement to sell or disposes any instrument for weighting.

The Special Power Act 1974 provides for more severe penalties for advertisement, black-marketing, smuggling, adulteration of or sale of adulterated foods, drinks, drugs or cosmetics.

The Dangerous Drugs Act 1930 empowered government to put restrictions on cultivation of cocoa-plant, manufacture and possession of opium, cultivation of poppy etc.

The Trade Mark Act 1940 provides that all manufactured commodity should have a trademark, which will distinguish it from other commodity of the same nature and the consumers will get the liberty to choose their own brand. The object of this act is to give protection to the original trademark against unauthorized use of his Trade Mark by his competitor(s).

The Standards of Weights and Measures Ordinance 1982 provides that the establishment of standards of weights and measures shall be based on metric system and units of measurement and would be know in the country as System International (SI) units.

All these Ordinances and Acts have been enacted with good intention to protect the ‘helpless’ consumers of Bangladesh. Similarly the CAB (Consumer Association of Bangladesh) was established to protect the rights of those consumers. [6]

Not too long ago, the Council of Advisers of the caretaker government approved in principle the Consumer Rights Protection Ordinance 2007 providing full-fledged legal cover for consumer’s interests. The meeting asked for comparing the Ordinance with other countries Consumer Rights protection laws in force.

The proposed new law provides for punishment of different terms, with maximum imprisonment for three years and maximum fine of Tk 300,000 (US$4,376) or both, for the transgressors. If the manufacturers violate the rule of inscribing maximum retail price (MRP), date and expiry of the product on the packet, the defaulter will have to suffer one year in jail or pay a fine of Tk 50,000, or both, it is stated in the punitive provision.

Under the Ordinance it has been proposed to form a 21-member council with Commerce Minister as its chairman. The council will formulate policy guidelines, hold meetings every three months, and can conduct research and form committee at district and upazila levels. [7]

The government of Bangladesh has formed a high powered body to frame guidelines and policies to ensure the consumer rights though implementing the consumer protection law. It is expected to build public awareness on positive aspects of consumers’ rights and negative sides to its violation.

The incumbent government has passed the Consumer Protection Act-2009 in April last through Parliament incorporating provision to reduce harassment of consumers. The act has provisions to take punitive measures including fines, seizure and imprisonment, in case of violation of consumer rights.[8]

However although Bangladesh’s Consumer Protection laws covers some of the basic areas for consumer rights, another vital problem lies in the unawareness of consumers of such rights and hence using such laws in their favor when it comes to purchasing products or services should they feel wronged or see any injustice or breach of such laws. Some of the reasons that pose problems for the Bangladeshi consumers in general are explained in the following sections.

Lack of awareness: Mass people of Bangladesh are unaware of their rights as a consumer. They do not know if the sellers cheat them, what they should do or where they should go. The reason behind is that consumers right is still a comparatively new concept to the people of Bangladesh.

Illiteracy: Most of the people in Bangladesh do not know about the existence of their rights as consumer. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of basic education. They cannot think up to the level that they can have such rights which would give them protection against adulteration of food, medicine etc. and the right to get proper service for which they are paying.

Economic condition: We cannot avoid thinking of the economic condition which does not provide the atmosphere fit for consumers who are careful and demand quality.

Compromising attitude: Sometimes we do compromise with the quality of goods bought because of our financial limitation. If we are incapable of paying the accurate price for the goods we buy, we cannot expect a high standard of quality for the same.

These are the small fractions of problem related to the consumers. However, there are other problems too. For example, in Bangladesh there is no separate court for consumers’ rights. Also the consumers lack proper authority to go to the court to bring action against those who violate the consumers’ rights. Therefore, the consumers need to rely upon the government officials concerned to bring any effective action against the alleged parties. Those alleged parties are also taking advantage of this vague situation. The corrupt businessmen tend to establish a good relationship with corrupt government officials who might help them to cheat and exploit the innocent consumers. Moreover, the BSTI (Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute) is beset with lots of problems, like it does not have modern equipment and facilities for testing of many products. Also, the general consumers very often question the efficiency and integrity of the officials in the BSTI. [9]

Consumers have eight basic rights, which are internationally recognized and approved by the United Nations. These are: (i) the right to satisfaction of basic needs; (ii) the right to safety; (iii) the right to be informed; (iv) the right to choose; (v) the right to consumer education; (vi) the right to a healthy environment; (vii) the right to be heard; and (viii) the right to redress. Therefore, we can see that “right to redress” is one of the basic rights of the consumers.

“Redress” refers to compensation for economic harm. In Bangladesh, the consumers’ right to redress is ignored in most occasions. Consumer redress mechanism under the formal justice system suffers from unnecessary “over-criminalization syndrome”, irrational “bureaucratization phobia”, and lack of specialized consumer redress forums. Alternatively, consumer redress mechanism under the informal justice system, though visible, needs to be developed and popularized. In this regards, establishment of specialized consumer courts and appropriate amendment(s) to the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 is a must and a necessity of time.

Consumer disputes are quite common in modern business world. Finding an effective consumer dispute resolution mechanism is therefore very much a need of the modern society. The availability of effective dispute resolution and redress mechanisms can increase consumer confidence and trust in the marketplace. They encourage fair business practices, too.

Consumer redress mechanism in Bangladesh can be viewed from two perspectives. Firstly, redress mechanism under formal justice system. Secondly, redress mechanism under informal justice system. The informal justice system includes both traditional and non-formal conflict resolution mechanisms. It may be stated that both formal and informal justice system of Bangladesh has its own pros and cons. For example, the formal justice system in Bangladesh is found to be “essentially impoverished; crime is underreported and poorly investigated by the police, the court system is slow and inadequate and the prisons are dilapidated and overcrowded.” On the other side, the informal justice system does often show some bias in favor of the rich and powerful and a gender bias in favor of men.

Bangladesh lacks, both resource and awareness regarding setting up of an effective consumer redress mechanism. Further, the irony is that the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 has now put a consumer, who has suffered “economic harm,” to face “bureaucratic barrier” before seeking any monetary compensation. Specialized consumer courts should be established and be linked with informal ADR system. Amendment to the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 is therefore a must and a necessity of time.[10]

Conclusion

Unfortunately, for proper implementation of the laws for consumer rights in Bangladesh, there are problems in different areas and sides that should be taken into consideration. From the government perspective, the government has yet to establish more new comprehensive and effective laws that are strict in regards to regulations of how products are produced, and how both products and services are provided to the consumers and also how much companies are responsible in the quality of the products and services they sell in order to provide better security for consumers, and to purchase products without worries from being cheated or worst of all to be harmed due to consumption of such products. Due to lack of proper separate court facilities in aid of consumers to directly go for help should they suffer any breach of law from their suppliers, the consumers are left in a situation where they are not in a position to take effective measures should they be wronged in any manner by the manufacturers.

At the same time quite some adequate number of people doing business is taking advantage of this vague situation where they are not to be held accountable easily, and hence using corrupt government officials in their aid to continue in their wrong practices to provide products and services to customers with unfair prices also without being questioned by governing bodies. Finally the consumers themselves are unaware of their rights due to the mentioned factors, which keeps most of the consumers of Bangladesh in a ‘helpless’ situation should they encounter unethical or breach of laws from the suppliers’ side of products and services. Often this would lead to a prolonged and difficult process to get anything in regards to compensation for being wronged by the supplier due to weak implementation of laws by the governing body of this country. Even if the government was to come up with newer laws, without proper implementation of current laws itself, it wouldn’t do much benefit for either side.

The government of Bangladesh needs to come up with comprehensive laws adding newer and stricter regulations that address the consumer rights issue in Bangladesh as a whole, updating to the modern economy of the 21st century, bring about a separate court system integrating aspects of both the formal and informal areas of consumer protection agencies, where consumers can go directly should any breach of performance result. Proper implementation of rules will also allow in the emergence of a sound economy which could benefit in more consumer purchases and the bringing about of better and more efficient ways of production being free from corruption; for instance in Dubai where almost 40% of GDP is due to the contribution of the retail sector, the introduction of laws such as the Consumer Rights Federal Law (24) 2006, has paved the way for consumers and retailers alike to operate within a framework which will only benefit both groups with very clear guidelines on both retailers and consumers rights and responsibilities.[11] Such practices of transparency and government protection has allowed them not only to gain confidence from national consumers but an ever growing international consumer segment as well. This goes on to show that proper implementation consumer rights system can actually benefit the economy as well, and result in a corruption free healthy economy, this goes on by saying that special efforts needed to be paid for education the consumer side of Bangladesh as well, while encouraging business sectors for more ethical means of business for better long term profitability.

Bibliography

Wikipedia, ”Consumer protection” [Online] Availabe

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_protection, November 8, 2010

The Daily Star, “Protecting consumer rights” [Online],

http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm, November 8, 2010

The Independent, “Consumer rights” [Online],

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-71024576.html, November 8, 2010

Mizanur Rahman, “Consumer protection in Bangladesh : Law and Practice” [Online],

http://resources.metapress.com/pdf-preview.axd?code=v1380v5r15m82441&size=largest, November 8, 2010

Skyscraper City, “Consumer rights in Bangladesh” [Online],

http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=546224, November 8, 2010

Bangladesh Economic News, “Body to frame policies on consumer right”,

http://bangladesheconomy.wordpress.com/category/consumer-rights/, November 8, 2010

The Daily Star, “‘Consumer redress’ and ‘empty pocket blues’” [Online’], http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm, November 8, 2010

Omar Bushabab, “CEO statement” [Online]

http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm November 8, 2010

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[1] Wikipedia, Consumer protection, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_protection

[2] The Daily Star, Protecting consumer rights, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm

[3] The Independent, Consumer rights, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-71024576.html

[4] The Daily Star, Protecting consumer rights, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm

[5] Mizanur Rahman, Consumer protection in Bangladesh : Law and Practice, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://resources.metapress.com/pdf-preview.axd?code=v1380v5r15m82441&size=largest

[6] The Daily Star, Protecting consumer rights, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm

[7] Skyscraper City, Consumer rights in Bangladesh, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=546224

[8] Bangladesh Economic News, Body to frame policies on consumer right, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://bangladesheconomy.wordpress.com/category/consumer-rights/

[9] The Daily Star, Protecting consumer rights, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm

[10] The Daily Star, ‘Consumer redress’ and ‘empty pocket blues’, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm

[11] Omar Bushabab, CEO statement Know your consumer rights, Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/03/01/index.htm