A consumer is a person who is not directly involved in a trade, but receives goods and services from a person who is engaged in the business. To keep the business profitable and legal, some policies have been formulated by the government to strike a balance between profit and quality. Such policies are largely about goods and services supplied to the consumers or customers, who wish to purchase or hire goods and/or services from the sellers or manufactures. Consumer rights are integral to human rights.
Over the years, these rights have gained importance in safeguarding the interest of consumers from the clutches of business monopoly and trade malpractices. Protection of consumer rights is now a global agenda. Bangladesh is struggling to fulfil the basic needs of its consumers. The world's economic giants have enacted a series of laws to meet the contemporary global demand on economic progress on one side and protection of the consumers from unfair, misleading and aggressive business propaganda on the other. While most developed countries have their stringent laws to protect consumers' interest, the World Trade Organisations (WTO) has also adopted a lot of rules to regulate trade and businesses of various products and services through import or export that impacts on producer or manufacturer, supplier or distributor, seller and ultimately the consumer.
Bangladesh has enacted Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 to deal with the consumer affairs. The Law is an addition to a number of around 61 relevant laws dealing with the consumer rights and their protection mechanisms in a sporadic way. Articles 15 and 18 of the Constitution of Bangladesh can be referred to as the basis of consumer protection laws. Article 15 deals with the provision of basic necessities like food, clothing, right to work, right to reasonable wage, quantity and quality of work, social security etc. In addition, there are numerous other provisions which have been enacted from time to time.
Laws for consumer protection in Bangladesh include: The Essential Commodity Act, 1956, The Pure Food Ordinance, 1959, The Price and Distribution of Essential Commodity Ordinance, 1970,The Drug Control Ordinance 1982, The Breast Milk Substitute (Regulation of Marketing) Ordinance 1984,The Tobacco Goods Marketing (Control) Act 1988,The Special Powers Act 1974,The Dangerous Drug Act 1930, The Trade Marks Act 1940,The Standard of Weights and of measures Ordinance 1982,The Food Grain Supply Ordinance 1956, The Penal Code 1860, The Sale of Goods Act 1930, The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution Ordinance, 1985: BSTI Act (Amendment)- 2003,The Essential Commodity Act 1990, Fish and Fish Product Rules, 1997 etc.
The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 provides for both civil and criminal remedies. A consumer is entitled to lodge complaint with the Consumer Rights Protection Department for any violation of the Act. The Deputy Commissioners of the districts can exercise the same power as given to the department. A consumer although barred from filing a direct complaint to the police station under the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 can file a case to the Police Station under other Laws. The Law on consumer rights not only prohibits adulteration, hoarding, smuggling, black marketing, cheating or fraud in weight and measurement or selling products at higher price but also provides punishments for such acts. A manufacturer or producer as well as a service provider or even in special circumstances the seller is liable for adulterated foods or drugs or other essential commodities. The counterfeit products or stolen goods or adulterated food or drugs are also prohibited for selling in the market and violation of which is punishable under the penal Laws including death penalty under the Special Powers Act, 1974 or imprisonment for 10 years and a fine of Tk.1 million under the Drug Control Ordinances, 1982.
The Bangladeshi laws provide for the establishment of different organisations to protect the rights of the consumers including various Courts or Tribunals such as- (i) Consumer Rights Protection Department; (ii) National Consumer Rights Protection Council; (iii) Special Tribunal; (iv) Mobile Court (can work/ function under various Laws; It may be constituted by a special executive order); (v) Drug Court; (vi) Food Special Court; (vii) Ordinary Criminal Courts; (viii) Ordinary Civil Courts; (ix) Marine Courts; (x) BSTI; (xi) Claims Tribunal etc. Various types of punishments under the consumer related Laws of Bangladesh can be summarised below:
l Death Penalty for adulteration of food, black marketing, hoarding etc. under the Special Powers Act, 1974;
l 10 years imprisonment and/ or fine of taka two hundred thousand for manufacturing sub-standard or prohibited drugs under the Drug Control Ordinance, 1982;
l 3-years punishments and/ or fine of taka two hundred thousand under the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 for adulteration of food or medicine;
l Compensation 5-times the actual loss under the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009;
l 4-years imprisonment and/ or fine of taka one hundred thousand under the BSTI Ordinance, 1985;
l Fine of taka 50 thousand and/or rigorous imprisonment for one year under the Pure Food Ordinances for sub-standard food items or giving false warranty etc;
l 6-months imprisonment or fine of taka one thousand under the Penal Code, 1860 for adulteration of food or drug or sale of adultered food or drug. For fraudulent use of false weight or measure of length or capacity, one year imprisonment or fine or with both. The same punishment can be imposed for an offence relating to trade mark and property mark.
l 2-years imprisonment and fine of taka 10,000 for violation of Standards of Weights and Measures Ordinance, 1982;
l 3-years imprisonment and/ or fine of taka 1000 for violation of the Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956;
l 2-years imprisonment and/ or fine of taka 50,000 under the Breast-Milk Substitute (Regulation of Marketing) Ordinance, 1984, if any person makes, exhibits, distributes, displays or publishes any advertisement promoting the use of any breast-milk substitute or implying or designing to create the belief or impression that breast-milk substitute is equivalent or superior to breast-milk feeding.
l Other Measures of punishments: forfeiture of goods or products or commodities or articles; destruction of goods in question; sale of goods; arrest & detention.
Currently, in Bangladesh majority of the consumers are facing a number of specific problems, some of them are : adulteration, product inconsistent with price, deceptive advertising, deceptive packaging and branding, false information about goods and services, cheating in weights & measures, false date, fraudulent production process and selling etc.
Overlapping of the laws is a problem for Bangladesh to implement measures against criminality associated with violation of consumer rights. Different Laws on the same subject, different types of punishment for the same offence under different Laws, court fees for filing a suit for compensation, delay in proceedings, investigation procedure left to the police instead of independent authorities, lack of monitoring mechanism have been observed by experts as potential impediments to enforcement. On the other hand, there are some controversial and conventional laws in existence in our country. These laws are so outdated that little or no protection is provided to the consumer's interests.
In the light of above, it is critically important to focus on how best to apply the relevant laws to protect consumers' interest. Some of the steps in this direction could be:
—Educating the consumers;
—Establishing a separate court for addressing consumers' specific complaints;
—Enacting a law with all provisions to promote and protect the rights of a consumer and repeal the backdated laws or provisions thereof;
—Taking effective measures of fair pricing and quality products by establishing market-control authorities;
—Monitoring prices of essential commodities, checking standards of various articles and ensuring safety products to the consumer;
—Constituting a 'consumers' complaint redress authority';
—Exempting consumers of court fees for filing a suit on the protection of consumer rights
—Allowing individual consumers to lodge complaint directly with the police or criminal Court;
—Giving exact definition of various products;
—Increasing the involvement of civil society organisations;
—Increasing mobile court operations etc.
The writer is Assistant Professor & Head Department of Law, Cox's Bazar International University.