Reflections on Consumer Rights Day

Tomorrow, March 15, is World Consumer Rights Day. The day traces its origins to March 15 1962 when President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America addressed the US Congress and formally raised the issue of consumer rights.

Consumers International has, over the years, led commemorations for the World Consumer Rights Day while lobbying the United Nations to include the day on its calendar.

Themes for World Consumer Rights Day revolve around critical areas affecting consumers today. For this year’s World Consumer Rights Day, Consumers International has chosen the theme Trusted Smart Products.

Through the World Consumer Rights Day, Consumers International and its affiliates across the global raise awareness about consumer rights and needs.

In his message that gave birth to the day, President Kennedy 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.”

Today, consumer rights movements the world-over, including our own Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) and the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC), work tirelessly to promote, protect and defend the rights of consumers.

This year’s theme for the day is equally befitting, especially at a time when consumers around the world are faced with a proliferation of counterfeit and substandard goods. Surely, the consumers deserve greater value for their money.

The theme also builds on the 2017 one of Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust.

Trust is paramount in business, social and personal relations. Trust can make or break a business. Thus, businesses should strive to offer consumers Trusted Smart Products in line with the theme.

Products here are wide-ranging. They include services such as electronic payments and mobile telecommunications besides foodstuffs we buy around and about.

While information and communication technology (ICT) platforms have eased payments for utilities, rental, groceries and even school fees, Malawian consumers continue to face headaches in accessing some of the services.

In some cases, where a customer of one commercial bank uses an automated teller machine (ATM) of a different bank, it happens that the machine does not dispense cash but their accounts are debited. To have reversals on such transactions, some banks take up to 20 days. To make matters worse, the funds so withheld do not earn the aggrieved customer any interest. If this is not inefficiency and inconvenience, then what is?

On the brighter side, there are positive developments in digital business that give an assurance that all is not lost. These include electronic payments through various platforms, such as Internet banking, mobile money and mobile banking. It is worth commending the service providers for the initiatives towards a digital or cashless society.

To fellow consumers, let us use World Consumer Rights Day to reflect on the quality of service and products we get on the market as well as how we can fulfill our duties and responsibilities.

In the same vein, I would like to appeal to Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS), which once upon a time was a household name associated with standards and quality, to raise the bar in the enforcement of standards to ensure that consumers get the best value for their money and indeed health.

In partnership with Cama and other authorities such as city councils, MBS used to “raid” businesses, both retail and manufacturers, checking adherence to standards, expiry dates and product composition. MBS of old would inspect the weight and measurement equipment in market places to ensure that consumers pay for the right quantities of goods purchased.

MBS would also undertake spot checks in public eateries, bakeries and such other places, all in the best interests of the consumer.

Recently, I noted with delight that, after all, it was too early to write an obituary for MBS as the organisation is alive and kicking!

Institutions such as MBS are critical in a country where poor consumers are taken for granted by powerful corporations.

Businesses should understand that what is important are not fines or closure orders by MBS or any agency. Basic hygiene is the barest minimum in food handling and preparation. Always put oneself in the shoes of the consumer.

Happy World Consumer Rights Day.

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