Consumer protection laws are made to regulate ‘a private law-relationship between individual, consumers and the businesses that sell those goods and provide services’. These laws cover a wide range of topics, including product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation and other consumer/business interactions.The internationally recognized eight consumer rights include; satisfaction of basic needs, safety, choice, information, consumer education, redress, representation and a healthy environment. To simplify these laws further, we can say that these laws enable consumers to express their concerns for the food they eat, the medicines they take, the water they drink or the products they use at homes.
In every country, consumers are considered the core foundations of all business activities and to secure their interests become the paramount responsibility of the state, followed by legal punishment for violators. Manufacturers and service providers are made to tailor their operations with quality products and services, which are not only profitable but also ethical, for the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
But unfortunately, in Pakistan these laws were ignored or made trivial and the lack of friendly laws gave rise to diverse problems. Various leading organizations advocating for these laws include the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP), The Network for Consumer Protection in Pakistan, Helpline Trust and Human Rights Group have said that lack of effective laws result in ‘artificial shortage of essential commodities, arbitrary price hikes, poor quality products and services, sale of hazardous products and misleading advertisements.
To tackle these problems, former governments took initial steps for protection of consumer rights. The first step was the enactment of Islamabad Consumer Protection Act in 1995. In 1997, the NWFP enacted a similar Consumer Protection law. These two laws, however, remained dormant because neither the rules of procedure were framed nor any Consumer Protection Council was established as was required under these laws. In the following years, Baluchistan and PunjabPunjab. provinces enacted their own Consumer Protection Acts in 2003 and 2005 respectively in the context of devolution power plan. The Government of NWFP also amended the 1997 law and vested powers with the District Coordination Officer (DCO). In Sindh, the Governor Sindh promulgated a Consumer Protection Ordinance in 2004, but it could not be enacted by the Provincial Assembly. The Ordinance was re-promulgated in February 2007. Until now, no significant progress has been made for implementation of these laws, except in Punjab.
Consumer protection organizations, governments, judiciary, print and electronic media are very active throughout the world by introducing consumer protection laws and consumer courts and ensuring that they are strictly enforced. It is not only the sole responsibility of government but the giant corporations or small manufacturers and consumer protection organizations should also share their onus by raising awareness among the masses.
“Due to the lack of Consumer Protection Laws and Enforcement of Existing Food and Drug Laws, Pakistan has become a dumping ground for semi expired and counterfeit food, beverages and medicines. Though there are over 300 brands of cooking oil and bottled water available in the markets in various sizes of tins, bottles and plastic cans, only 16 cooking oil manufacturers, 60 water bottlers, just 2 biscuit manufacturers and only one carbonated drinks manufacturer was registered with Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA),” says a latest report by Helpline Trust.
The consumers are also advised to ensure while shopping; buy from a reputed store, check manufacture and expiry date, net & gross weight, seals and packing, PSQCA logo on packing of cooking oils, bottle waters, biscuits and carbonated beverages and always demand a cash memo.