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How to protect consumers’ rights in Pakistan?

Published on 8th Sep, Edition 36, 2014

 

Unfortunately, there is a widespread violation of consumer rights in Pakistan and the area of consumer protection has remained neglected in the country due to improper rules and law. It is pathetic that majority of consumers are unaware of their rights, hence they are vulnerable to exploitation by producers. A consumer has misleading information and because of the ignorance of his rights and non-availability of redress mechanism, he is exploited by the producers.

A consumer is vital to any economic plan, strategy, policy and activity. The consumers may suffer if they have no information or having imperfect information in the world of highly competitive markets. So in the given situation of ostensibly competitive market, a consumer protection policy is direly needed in Pakistan for which government is responsible for protecting the consumer welfare and rights through intervention. Hence, the issue of misinformation or imperfect information for the consumers must be redressed through educating the right law and regulation to the consumers. The policy must be made to address the need and to lay down quality standards in providing specifications for goods and services to be provided in a country.

State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) recently directed the banks, development finance institutions (DFIs) and micro-finance banks (MFBs) to develop and implement their own framework on fair treatment of the consumers. The central bank underlined the financial consumer protection, its significance, global developments and bank’s own expected role vis-a-vis the financial consumer protection. The SBP has already issued several market conduct instructions for banks in its endeavor to foster financial consumer protection across the industry , but it has been noticed that financial consumer protection is perceived to be limited to complaint handling only. For dissemination of the real connotation of financial consumer protection, the State Bank had to issue the recent directive entailing the meaning of financial consumer protection and the conduct expected from banks and DFIs for the advocacy of financial consumer protection.

No country can grow economically without ensuring protection of consumer’s rights with emergence of competitive environment in markets of goods and service. The companies of different sectors should ensure consumers’ rights keeping in mind that these people are their business partners whose contribution are vital in development and growth of their businesses.

Without protecting consumers’ rights, the country cannot allure foreign investment, which leads to bring competition in different fields of business and benefits to layman in terms of high quality in the products and services against reasonable prices and charges.

Established in 1998, Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP) is a rights-based civil initiative registered under the Trust Act, 1882. CRCP is an independent organization that largely works through local fund-raising. It is not supported by any industry or commercial sector. It is the first national consumer body consumer in the country, which approaches the issue of consumer protection in comprehensive terms. Its vision and strategies have significant cross linkages with both market practices and issues of governance. CRPC is led by a highly qualified team of professionals and they have worked on the core issues of the consumers’ community. The Commission plans to establish its chapters in all provinces to achieve its objectives and members of all walks of life will be included.

 

There are consumer laws in the country that protect the rights of consumers. Basically these laws deal with two types of issues including defective product and defective service. Consumers must take interest for their own rights otherwise there will be no relief for consumers. Consumer laws regulate a relationship between consumers and the businesses that provide goods and services. The consumers express their concerns for the goods and services provided by the producers through consumers’ laws, which deal with the product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud and misrepresentation. The consumers’ courts must be established and empowered to protect the rights of the consumers in the country. The presence active consumer courts in every district of the country could check the gross violation of consumer rights across the country.

The government should come up with a regulation framework to ensure consumers rights in the country. A comprehensive strategy needs to be devised for consumer protection in Pakistan. Such a strategy should cover all areas including formulation of legislation, awareness creation, provision of information, setting of quality standards and redress of grievances. The Islamabad Consumer Protection Act was the first step taken in this direction in 1995 and it should be extended to all the four provinces. It is not the government but all the companies should protect the consumers’ rights.

Unfortunately, what we see in Pakistan is the worst neglect of these rights. Our markets are infested with low quality consumers’ items and products. The expired and unhygienic food items pose public health hazards. The provision of substandard goods and services in the market reflect the state of ignorance by the authorities responsible for protection of consumers’ rights. A comprehensive legislation for consumer protection should be enforced in the whole country. The legislation should aim at protecting the consumer interests.

What is direly needed is to raise general awareness about consumer protection. The government can play an important role through awareness campaigns. Electronic media can play a vital role in this regard. The government cannot promote efficient and effective competition in the country without protecting the rights of the consumers. Awareness for consumers’ rights may be given through holding various seminars and conferences on the issue. Pakistan is a third world country where consumer rights are generally neglected. Consistent efforts are needed to ensure protection and welfare of the consumers. The consumer pressure groups must be formed in the country with an aim of consumer protection.

Though there are non-governmental organizations such as The Network for Consumer Protection in Pakistan, Helpline Trust and Human Rights Group in the field, yet the government must also show seriousness to the protection of consumers’ rights. Consumers are the core foundations of all business and economic activities and it is the responsibility of the state to secure consumer interests by awarding legal punishment to violators.

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