Consumer rights generally refer to a body of law that bother on what producers of goods must do to protect customers from harm. These laws have come into existence through series of legal disputes, and have been shaped by the results of these cases. In a few instances, some states have actually codified regulations that they refer to as consumer rights laws, but this is not yet the majority practice, and even these codifications may not cover all of the principles that are generally considered consumer rights.
Consumer protection is prompted by the allegations of abuses of consumer rights in the market place. Consumer rights in this regard are the rights of consumer to some basic entitlement in the goods and services they consume. This basic entitlement includes standard weight and measurers, adequate and appropriate quality of goods and services as well as right to consumer information competitive choice, redress and environment protection.
One of the most widely accepted basic consumer rights is the right to safety. In other words, consumers should be able to assume that the products they buy are reasonably safe for their intended purpose when used as directed.
Defective safety equipment in cars, excessively flammable home products, and dangerous toys are a few examples of products that were found to be unreasonably safe and helped shape the body of law creating this right. Through decisions holding the makers and sellers of these products liable for injuries resulting from their dangerous designs, this “right” against unsafe products has been discerned.
In order to maximize profits, many businessmen exploit consumers by supplying poor quality goods at higher prices. They adopt unfair trade practices such as adulteration, boarding, black-marketing, etc. As a result, consumers do not get value for their money. Big business houses use their power for private gain and to the detriment of consumers. Consumers are exposed to physical, environmental and other hazards. They need to be protected from spurious, duplicate and adulterated products, pollution of air, water and noise, and misleading advertising.
The need for Consumer Protection under the modem philosophy of marketing, consumer is supposed to be the king and business is expected to provide maximum possible satisfaction to consumers.
However, in reality, consumers are often exploited. In a country like India, there is shortage of many products. A few firms enjoy monopoly powers in the market place. A large majority of consumers are ignorant and illiterate and do not know their rights. They are poor and there is lack of unity among them. Due to all these reasons, consumers are often deprived of their rights. They are often exploited through misleading advertisements, poor quality goods, fractional weights and measures, overcharging.
Fraudulent, unethical and monopolistic trade practices on the part of businessmen lead to exploitation of consumers. Consumers often get defective, inferior and substandard goods and poor service. Certain measures are required to protect the consumers against such malpractices.
Greedy businessmen indulge in adulteration, boarding, black-marketing and other illegal practices. In India, consumers are widely dispersed and are not united. They are at the mercy of businessmen. On the other hand, producers and traders are organized and powerful.
In Europe, consumer protection legislation guarantees that everyone has the right to be treated fairly when buying household goods at the supermarket, paying the bill at the energy supplier or downloading music. The charter of fundamental Rights and the European treaties since the Single European Act guarantee a high level of consumer protection in the European Union. It is also a general objective defined in Article 12 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
European legislation guarantees consumers fair treatment products, which meet acceptable standards a right of redress if something goes wrong. European Union legislation in other areas also has to consider consumer protection. Generally, consumer protection is ensured by a diverse set of policies, such as food and product safety or data protection.
Consumer and marketing legislation is aimed at protecting the economic interests of consumers. It mainly covers unfair commercial practices and consumer contract law, such as misleading advertising and unfair contract terms. European consumer and marketing law is based on the notion that the asymmetry of information, where the seller knows more about the product or service than the consumer, is open to abuse. Additionally there are provisions that protect vulnerable consumers, such as children.
In Nigeria, the role of consumer protection council in the protection of consumer’s rights was aggravated by the need to establish the degree of the need for the protection of consumer in Nigerian market. The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) was established under Decree 66 of 1992 in order to ensure that consumers interest receives due consideration at appropriate time and to provide redress to intolerable practices or the deceitful exploitation of consumers by companies, firms trade associations or individuals.
Sadly, however, the CPC is not really doing this despite the fact the multinational companies abuse our rights. It has been found that consumer protection council has not been really in Nigeria despite the various strategies designed by the council to educate the public and promoted the interest of the consumers in our society. The problem at hand is so wide, that it will take the commitment of the general populace to fight this ill that is eating up the society by way of abusing the right of the consumer by the exploitative manufacturers. Presently, the CPC do not provide speedy redress to consumer complaints through negotiation, conciliation and reconciliation.
Recently, MultiChoice, operators of DStv and GOtv, announced a 20 per cent price increase for all its satellite pay TV bouquets in Nigeria to take effect from April 1, 2015. It based the increase on the need to continue offering the best in local and international entertainment to its subscribers.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has restrained Multi Choice Nigeria Limited, operators of the Digital Satellite Television, popularly known as DStv, from implementing its new rates and increase in tariffs payable by its subscribers across board. But the firm still went ahead to implement the increase. This, of course, is the agony that Nigerian consumers face. Most Multinational companies that operate in the country constantly abuse the right of consumers with unbelievable impunity.
The National Assembly as well as other vital stakeholders must as a matter of urgency seriously look into this issue. The Nigerian consumers must be protected from the hands of heartless and unscrupulous elements.
First published in Newswatch Times