The right to “safe goods and services” is included in the ‘right to life’ which is the most important fundamental right guaranteed under the Article 32 of the Constitution. The consumer rights protection has become a much-talked issue in recent times in the country. Now-a-days, the consumers are much worried about what they buy and eat. There are some laws in our country prohibiting the activities that militate against the rights of the consumers, but they are not strictly being enforced.
Before coming to Bangladesh context and our problems and satisfactions with the current laws, we should start from scratch and that actually need answering a few basic questions. Such as-
- Who is Consumer?
Consumer means a person who purchases goods and services for personal use. In other words, a consumer is a person or an organisation that uses economic services or commodities.
Now, we can see how our legal regime defines the term ‘consumer’-
THE CONSUMER RIGHTS PROTECTION ACT (CRPA), 2009  states that:
“Consumer” means any person –
(a) Who without resale or commercial purpose
(i) buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised to be paid ;
(ii) buys any goods for a consideration which has been partly paid and partly promised ;
(iii) buys any goods for a consideration under any system of deferred payment or instalment basis ;
(b) Who uses any goods bought under clause (a) with the approval of the buyer;
(c) Who buys any goods and uses it commercially for the purpose of earning his livelihood by means of self-employment;
(i) Hires or in any other manner avails of any service for a consideration which has been paid or promised to be paid; or
(ii) Hires or in any other manner avails of any service for a consideration which has been partly paid
and partly promised; or
(iii) Hires or in any other manner avails of any service for a consideration under any system of deferred payment or installment basis ; or
(e) Who enjoys any service under clause (d), with the approval of the person who hires or avails it .
- What are Consumer Rights?
Though not commonly known because of the publicly approaches of the traders, every consumer, which commonly means every person in the society and the citizens who buy products not for any further commercial use but for ultimate consumption, have some rights of their own. Those rights are protected by the state through some specific laws, rules and regulations and are called Consumer Rights.
To be more specific, there are eight consumer rights which are defined by the UN Consumer Bill of Rights :
- Right to Safety-
safeguarding against the goods that are hazardous to life and property.
- Right to Information-
consumers have the right to be informed regarding the price, quality, quantity, etc., of the products they buy.
- Right to Choice-
consumers should be provided with a wide variety of good to choose from.
- Right to be Heard-
right of consumers to have their complaints heard.
- Right to Satisfaction of Basic Needs-
this right demands that people have access to basic, essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water and sanitation.
- Right to Redress-
consumers have the right to seek redress regarding their complaints.
- Right to Consumer Education-
the right of consumers to be educated about their rights.
- Right to Healthy Environment-
this is the right to live and work in an environment that is non-threatening to the well-being of present and future generations.
- What is Consumer Rights Protection?
In a welfare state, some laws, rules and regulations are enacted to protect the people from anti-consumer rights practices. Those laws, rules and regulations are collectively called as Consumer Rights Protection. This definition is quite simple, but it also creates another question in our minds, what kind of activities can be called the anti-consumer rights practices exactly?
For that, it has been clarified in THE CONSUMERS RIGHTS PROTECTION ACT (CRPA), 2009 as given below :
“anti- consumer rights practices” means-
(a) to sell or offer to sell any goods, medicine or service at a higher price than the fixed price
under any law for the time being in force ;
(b) to sell or offer to sell adulterated goods or medicine knowingly ;
(c) to sell or offer to sell any goods containing any ingredient which is extremely injurious to human health and the mixing of which with any food item is prohibited under any law for the time being in force ;
(d) to deceive consumers by untrue or false advertisement with the purpose of selling any goods or service;
(e) not to sell or deliver properly any goods or services sold and promised in consideration of money ;
(f) to sell or deliver less than the offered weight to the consumers while delivering or selling any goods ;
(g) if the weight stone or any other weight measuring instrument used for measuring weight in selling or delivering goods shows more than the actual weight ;
(h) to sell or deliver less than the offered amount while delivering or selling any goods ;
(i) if the length measuring gauge or anything else used for measuring length in selling or delivering goods shows more than the actual length ;
(j) to make or manufacture any fake goods or medicine ;
(k) to sell or offer to sell goods or medicine the date of which has expired;
(l) to do an act which may endanger life or security of the consumer
and which is prohibited by any law for the time being in force.
In short, anti- consumer rights practices mean all the activities which deprive a citizen
of exercising his rights as a consumer.
Though the ‘right to information’ is a basic right of the citizens, most of the citizens don’t know about consumers’ rights, their forms as well as the protection rules and regulations. As Fozor Ali, a construction worker says, “eita ki dhoroner odhikar bap? Bazar e to khali dokandarder e power!” (What kind of rights are these? It is the traders who seem to have all the powers in bazar!). And it is quite hard to find any advertisements on TV channels, or even a billboard or posters for letting people like him know about these rights.
Presently, activities for securing consumer rights are stuck solely around the rallies and the seminars in the Consumer Rights Day in 15th March every year.
Then comes the situation of the safety of the consumers and their property. In Bangladesh, it is common that the products the traders serve in the markets are not really “safe”. Most of the fishes, meats, fruits and vegetables are mixed with formalin and other preservative chemicals which are in fact hazardous to human body. Fast foods and other food products are mostly adulterated or prepared in unhealthy environments.
Though the Special Powers Act 1974 under section 25C prescribes the highest punishment of death penalty for adulteration of foods and drugs, the unscrupulous people are continuing the hateful acts of adulteration. Lack of strict enforcement of laws can be traced as the main factor behind this problem.
Talking about adulteration and unhealthy environments, there is also some good news about consumer protection nowadays. The government in the recent years has put some magistrates to inquire about the products served in every market. Those magistrates work as mobile courts which are able to give punishments on-the-scene if they have enough evidence of adulteration or unhealthy environments in the food shops. Though not being a constant factor, the fear factor of those mobile courts is making many of the traders of the markets to abide by the rules. Although the success of these mobile courts lights up hopes about the improvement in the activities for securing consumer protection, there is still no public knowledge about where to call or contact in any other manner if their rights as a consumer is violated. Those rights about having complaints are also recognised and emphasised twice by the UN as the “Right to be heard” and the “Right to redress”, but this prospect is unfortunately put in the no-care region by the authorities in Bangladesh.
According to a recommendation report on THE CONSUMER RIGHTS PROTECTION ACT (CRPA), 2009 accomplished by United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), India and Malaysia in recent times rose from the situations we are presently facing in terms of consumers’ rights protection.
The report also criticised the activities of Bangladesh regarding the eight foundations of the UN Consumer Bill of Rights. Further, it emphasised on taking steps to improve the activities of the consumer protection institutions in Bangladesh.
Shortcomings of the Consumer Rights Protection Act (CRPA), 2009:
THE CONSUMER RIGHTS PROTECTION ACT (CRPA), 2009 does not follow the international standards in terms of dispute resolution. It does not provide for any quasi-judicial dispute resolution system for resolution of consumers’ complaints. Most of the international consumer laws allow to receive complaints directly from the consumers, but the CRPA, 2009 does not allow direct complaints to be received from the consumers rather it mandates the endorsement of the Director General of the Consumer Rights Protection Department (CRPD) in this regard.
As per the CRPA, the usual trial procedure will be followed in redressing the issues arising out of the violation of the CRPA. The usual trial procedure proved to be time consuming and more complex as well as multifarious. Most of the countries follow a trial system in this respect which is quite unique, special and simple as well as totally different from the traditional trial system. The CRPA, 2009 should be amended for the purpose of fair protection of the consumer rights.
There is no doubt that the visions and the future plans about the future of the state cannot come to fruition without the involvement and the improvement of the people in general. It can be noted “Sonar Bangla”, “Vision 2021” and “Digital Bangladesh” whatever the dreams are, the real concentration on the real life problems of the people and especially on securing the rights they have is a must for the state, and helping and responding to those activities is also a responsibility for the population. However, to protect consumer rights, the UN Consumer Bill of Rights and other meaningful criticisms of the laws of the country should be reckoned closely by the state authority to successfully implement the laws and improve the present situation.
 The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 (Act No. 26 of 2009): pe 3,4
 UN Consumer Bill of Rights, 1962
 The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 (Act No. 26 of 2009): pp 4,5
 “Recommendations for Effective Implementation of the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 in Bangladesh” by UNIDO.