On March 15, 1962 former US President John F. Kennedy said:
'Consumers by definition 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 groups whose views are often not heard.'
He went on to set out the following four basic consumer rights to:
• Be heard
In recent years the consumer movement under the guidance of Consumers International (CI) added four more rights and they include the rights to:
• The satisfaction of basic needs
• A healthy environment
The United Nations in its guidelines for consumer protection as promulgated in 1985, outlines the following which apply to both locally produced goods and services as well as imports.
• Physical safety and promotion and protection of consumers' economic interests
• Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services
• Distribution facilities for essential consumer goods and services
• Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress
• Education and information programmes
The right to be heard
• Somebody must listen - the retailer, repairman or anybody involved in the matter - when the consumer is not satisfied with a purchase or a service performed.
• Go straight to the top! Approach the owner or the manager with your complaint.
• Consumers must stand together and lobby for the right to air their complaints.
The right to be informed
Consumers have the right to be given all the information they require about a product or service and it is their responsibility to see that they get it. For instance, as a consumer you have the right to know the exact ingredients of every type of processed food you buy, and the right to know all the details on a contract. If you do not understand certain points, you must insist on having them explained to you. Insist on your right to be informed. Write to the relevant authorities and get support from people and organisations in your community. To date consumers have not utilised this right fully to their advantage.
The right to safety
Consumers must be protected against flaws or hidden dangers in products or services that they buy. They also have the right to physical safety while they are buying.
Consumers must be the watchdogs of the community and be on the lookout for potentially dangerous situations. Consumers must draw the attention of local authorities or the relevant government departments to their problems and unsafe products.
The right to choose
Consumers must insist on a variety of products and goods to choose from based on personal taste, quality or price. Competition in the market place allows you to buy what suits your particular circumstances.
The right to redress
When you are sold an inferior product or service, you have the right to go back to the seller and demand a replacement or a refund. In some instances this right is protected by law and consumers can take their cases to the courts to exercise their right to redress. If consumers are satisfied with their inferior products and services, they have only themselves to blame. Because consumers do not demand redress for inferior products and services, businesses are not aware of them and others are caught in the same trap.
The right to consumer education
Consumers have the right to demand education in consumer affairs. Both the state and the private sector have a role to play in this. Many opportunities are available and the onus lies on you, the consumer, to make sure that you are educated in consumer affairs.
The right to satisfaction of basic needs
Consumers have the right to basic goods and services which guarantee survival. This includes adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and sanitation.
The right to a healthy environment
• Consumers have the right to a physical environment that will enhance the quality of life.
It is therefore necessary to know and be aware of the following responsibilities:
As consumers you have the responsibility to organize together in order to develop the strength and influence to promote and protect your interests. You therefore need to drive the development of non-government and community based organizations dealing with consumer issues and to strengthen the existing ones.
Do you belong to, or support any consumer group?
• Critical Awareness
You have the responsibility to be more alert and questioning about the price, quality and safety of products and services you buy. Before making any decisions, it is necessary to obtain all the relevant information on products and services, you should also ask about terms and conditions of the contract. Many complaints could be avoided if you assumed this responsibility.
Did you ask and understand the terms of your contract before buying?
As a consumer you must bear in mind that as long as you remain passive, you will be or continue to be continued to be exploited. If you are not satisfied with the condition of the products or the services provided to you, speak to the right person so as fair deal. Don't be afraid to complain.
Are you satisfied with the products you bought or the services that were rendered to you? If not what have you done?
• Social Concern
Consumers have the responsibility to aware of the impact of their consumption on other citizens, especially disadvantaged and powerless groups. For example, consumers need to use available resources such as water responsibly, so that all communities have adequate access to such resources.
Before taking any action, please think of how it will affect other consumer!
As a consumer you have the responsibility to understand the environmental results of products and services you buy and use. You should recognize your individual responsibility to conserve natural resources and to protect the earth for future generations.
Be aware of products that could cause danger to the environment!
The writer is the Rector of the School of Finance and Banking.