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Almost every other day in the year has been set by United Nations as a ‘Day’ for international awareness or observance on a broad range of issues and phenomena considered important at international level. The UN by declaring a ‘Day’ recognises that there is an area where many things need to be done. It is actually a sensitizer and well meaning member countries reinvigorate their activities in the area to do better than what they have done so far. However, in most cases the international days have become an occasion of mere observance for people and agencies concerned, in which they just put across their common household cries on the pertinent issue to which the day is dedicated. How many of these outbursts do really make their way into the public’s knowledge remains a big question.
For an instance, today is World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD). Even though the Day has been being celebrated on 15 March each year since it was initiated in 1983 in a bid to promote action amongst people for the international consumer movement, how many of you who are reading this write-up have heard of it? Nonetheless, the issue is of enormous importance and we all must have a clear understanding of it since every one of us is a consumer and the World Consumer Rights Day provides a platform for all consumers to voice any difficulties they face or have faced in the past. Former US President John F Kennedy was the first world leader to have formally addressed the issue. He on 15 March 1962 sent a special message to the US Congress in which he said: “Consumers include us all. They are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group… whose views are often not heard.” There has since been a push for these ‘consumer rights’ and this is because 15 March has been declared WCRD.
Consumer rights are integral to human rights. In present day world these rights are considered crucial in protecting the interest of consumers from business monopoly and trade malpractices. Consumer rights protection has today emerged as a global agenda. Consumer rights organisations now acknowledge eight basic consumer rights: the right to satisfaction of basic needs, the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose, the right to be heard, the right to redress, the right to consumer education and, debatably most important, the right to a healthy environment. Talking particularly about our country, can anyone of us say how many, if any, of these basic consumer rights are protected? The answer most probably will be in negative. This is because few of us are aware of our rights as consumers despite the fact that WCRD is observed in our country every year like elsewhere in the world.
Keeping pace with the increasing global efforts to uphold the rights of the consumers, Bangladesh has enacted Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 to deal with the consumer affairs. The law provides for both civil and criminal remedies. Not only that the law bars adulteration, hoarding, smuggling, black marketing, fraud in weight, or selling products at higher price but it also has provisions to provides punishments for such acts. According to the provision of the law every consumer is entitled to lodge complaint with the Consumer Rights Protection Department for any violation of the Act. Alongside, the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009, there are around 61 more relevant laws in Bangladesh to deal with the consumer rights and their protection mechanisms in a sporadic way. Even though the law bars a consumer from filing a direct complaint to the police station but they can file a case with police station under other laws. However, despite having all this arrangement for remedy of violations of consumer rights, the country is still struggling to fulfil the basic needs of the consumers here. And one feel a lack of awareness at every level including the consumers, traders and law enforcers is responsible for this pitiable situation.
It is amply clear that even though the World Consumer Rights Day is observed every year with much enthusiasm and fervour, the true objective of the Day is not being served. Therefore, it would be our earnest call upon all people and organisations, including the government, concerned to take up adequate programmes for building awareness among the citizens, consumers and producers or providers of products and services as a whole. And this should be done not only on the occasion of WCRD but such programmes must continue all the year round. Perhaps, only then, the true purpose of observing WCRD — making crucial contribution in safeguarding the consumers’ interests — will be accomplished.

The writer is Acting News Editor, Bangladesh Post