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March 14, 2004

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How long the consumers will suffer?

Julius Valentine Gomes

In dearth of proper and effective implementation of existing laws on consumer rights, millions of people of our country are being exploited by a group of unscrupulous and profit-monger businessmen. As a result, consumers are not able to free themselves from the vicious circle of adulterated goods, incorrect weights and measures. A recent survey conducted by the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) has revealed that more than 50 percent products in our market, especially food items, are adulterated. So it is very easy to guess what people are consuming as food. Selling adulterated food is a punishable offence, but the sad truth is, those dishonest groups involved in this practice have never been brought to justice.

The rights of consumers became internationally recognised when the UN adopted the basic guideline principles for consumers' protection. In last two decades, this concern was turned into a movement all over the world and in Bangladesh, with the constant efforts of some active consumer rights organisations, consumer movement gained an impetus and many of our consumers became aware of their rights.

However, the fact is, our consumers are deprived of their rights every now and then at their daily life. There are some legislation to protect the rights of the consumers, which include: Control of Essential Commodities Act 1956; Essential Commodities Price & Bond Ordinance 1970; The Pure Food Stuff Ordinance 1959; Trade Mark Act 1940; Breast Milk Substitutes (Regulation of Marketing) Ordinance 1984; Weights and Measures Ordinance 1982 (amendment); and Drug Control Ordinance 1982. The punishment of violating these acts/ordinances could be imprisonment from 1 to 10 years, fines from Tk. 1,000 to Tk. 200,000 or both.

However, these protections are not inclusive and unable to meet all the current requirements of our consumers. Therefore our consumers cannot take proper legal action against the immoral trade practices of the dishonest businessmen and traders. The press is regularly publishing reports on adulteration and production of substandard foods and other commodities, but still the government as well as the private sector disregarded the problem of consumers' protection. Besides, our consumers have a lack of proper knowledge about the existing laws.

Consumer right is the fundamental right of every citizen. This awareness should grow in every strata of society. Lack of awareness among people attached with the old tradition of not reacting to the destructive practices, has created a suitable condition for the dishonest producers and sellers for getting away with anything and everything. So the innocent and helpless consumers of Bangladesh are in a crying need of having a comprehensive consumer protection legislation. Therefore, the government should introduce that type of consumer protection Act as early as possible and ensure the effective implementation of such legislation.

Tomorrow, 15 March, is the world consumer rights day 2004. Let us pledge that we the consumers will be fully aware of our rights and also the government as well as the producers must vow that it will strive to ensure the consumer rights.

Julius Valentine Gomes is a student of BBA, BRAC University.

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