World Consumer Day 2021 | Sunday Observer

World Consumer Day 2021

14 March, 2021

World Consumer Day (WCD) is an annual event held on March 15, every year for celebrations, activism, and solidity among the consumer and consumer organisations worldwide. Consumerism has a historical significance until WCD was originated in 1983, and subsequently the consumer rights were elevated to a position of international recognition by adopting guidelines by the United Nations.

Former US President John. F. Kennedy said in 1962 that consumer by definition includes the largest economic groups affecting and effected by almost every public and private economic decisions yet they are the very important group whose views are often not heard. Today things have changed as in the West where the consumer is organised and powerful. WCD is one of those events of showing strength and power of the consumer. Seminars and workshops and shows of activism give a sense of power and strength to the consumer.

Junk food generation which has an adverse effect of the health of the human being especially children have been a popular topic of the day.

Some topics chosen before of unethical drug promotion, GM food, consumer and water, control of the food chain. Selection of the same topic junk food consecutively for two years indicates the importance of the topic. Twenty million children around the world are already overweight. Most children are targeted by multinational organisations.

As a result there is a strong global campaign to introduce an international code on marketing unhealthy food to children.

The WCD depends on   initiatives planned functions and projects carried out by consumer organisations in every country.

This takes the shape of a special campaign with press conferences, exhibitions, workshops and similar events. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka there is less activism leaving the helpless consumer alone in the hands of the errant trader and industrialist that continues to exploit freely despite regulatory led by the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) which was established in 2003 with high expectations to protect the consumer, regulate trade, form consumer organisations and show the strength of the consumer to the Government and trader, and compel the government machinery to provide the consumer with quality food and other consumer items  of quality and at a reasonable price.

The Consumer is aware that he/she is disappointed and let down while the trader and the industrialist have a field day in exploitation of the consumer who is a citizen of this country.

Consumer Trust

Developing countries trust in a highly complicated digital atmosphere where the consumer is now at the door step of digital age.

Digital storms are blowing away the human mind which is the most advanced computer now depending on artificial intelligence and advanced digital technological developments.

We are at the doorstep of the modern digital transformation where the entire style on the modern advanced systems and innovations are of human life.

Consumers are inadequately protected by traditional safeguards provided by respective legal systems worldwide and outdated regulatory procedures.

The United Kingdom magazine “Which” provides the consumer a medium of information, advice and guidance. Unfortunately no such system is available in Sri Lanka when there are “COW BOY” consumer organisations available for publicity and exploitation of both the consumer and trader.

The European Union (EU) has spread its tentacles over the member countries in safeguarding the consumer by directions.

Consumerism in India is organised and powerful with government support legislation legal system and a separate consumer courts with the judiciary favouring public interests.

There has been legal actions in the USA and UK even against giant multinational company Cocoa Cola and junk food chains for poisoning and making the entire world potential patients.

Consumerism and consumer protection models are organised and effective in the socialist block and the Commonwealth with different legal systems.

There is uniformity in the Commonwealth including Canada Australia with similar legal systems and the Sri Lankan model is a mixture of Australian, Canadian and UK models and European concepts.

Consumers are powerful and considered to be solid as in other parts of the world where they are able to flex their muscles on the parties concerned for fair and reasonable consumerism.

The consumer is powerful with the adage “consumer is always right”’.

The theme of the year 2021 is the Sustainable Consumer which is a timely topic in the midst of volatile and unstable situations in all areas of trade, regulation and generally consumerism.

It appears that the foundation is shaky with the Consumer Act No 09 of 2003 which is a mixture of Canadian, Australian, and the UK model depending on competition law and regulation after having replaced the English model based on price control.

The Minister of Trade has fixed controlled prices of 27 goods to be sold only at CWE outlets which is wheat flour at Rs. 84 per kilogram, dhal at Rs. 150, milk powder at Rs.400 and the list goes on. How could he do it when the subject consumerism in under a different Ministry and we have done away with the concept of price control with the introduction of the Consumer Act No 09 of 2003?

Sorry to say it is in a mess with the CAA under a Major General, a nice personality but with a lack of knowledge and vision on the subject. The CAA should be amended forthwith to cater to the modern developments and digital platforms and modern challenges.

World Consumer Day

WCD is the opportunity for the consumer to show strength by flexing their muscles agitating for their rights since the consumer is always at the receiving end worldwide- mostly in Sri Lanka with lack of powers to organise and agitate for the legitimate needs of the consumer.

Initiated by John Kennedy in 1963 the WCD process continues worldwide including Sri Lanka with the organising of consumer movements and many other organizations.

In Sri Lanka the process is led by the CAA which is the main regulator in the country and other organisations. It is still not known what steps the CAA has taken for this year’s programs whereas previously various programs were organised with the consumer, public, students and the citizen at large.

A topic chosen for this year is to work around issues such as junk food generation, and it is timely beneficial to the citizen and an eye opener to the rest of the world including the governance and the trader.

The consumer must be alert and vigilant when the trader is expected to be fair and reasonable to strike a balance for a better world and society to live in.

The consumer is the most neglected group in society as stated by Kennedy in 1963.

Obviously the world action will have a ripple effect on the genuine needs of the consumer as a result of the worldwide organised consumer movement in which the zenith is on March 15 every year at various organised events worldwide.

Sustainable Consumer -Theme of the World Consumer Day 

Emphasis and priority this year is given to global changes to avert environment breakdown where the consumer has to play a main and vital role to avoid destruction of our world by greedy politicians and industrialists with consumers included.

Consumer education and organisation is vital to avert the self-destruction of ourselves knowingly and unknowingly leading to a slow death of the citizen and the globe with irreparable damages to the future of mother of earth.

This is a timely and current topic owing to the destruction of the world due to unplanned developments and it is the duty of the public bodies to engage in the world consumer movement in saving the planet from destruction.

Culprits and those responsible are worldwide in this sad destruction process.

Forest cover in Sri Lanka is decreasing fast  daily due to jungle clearing, forest fires and unplanned developments leading to floods, uneven climatic changes and disasters, which is man-made owing to greed.

This could be averted by changing the lifestyle and style of governance. Sand mining is rampant with the assistance and patronage of errant and corrupt politicians and government servants.

The min regulator CAA appear to be in deep slumber occasionally counting the price of vegetables with no vision for the nation!

Other regulators such as the local authorities, ministries, appear to be engaged in political strategies and collection of funds for the future.

World famous cultural and other sites of attraction are in danger due to vandalism and damage caused by the owners of the land where destruction continues at random despite the existence of number of ministries and departments with enormous powers and funds available to prevent it.

Certain consumer goods are poisonous and there is no proper regulation by CAA and other regulators to control it. It is a sorry state which needs revival by a proper leader as the regulator with a vision and collective action by the consumer organisations and the public.

What is the possible remedy to prevent the imminent disaster and destruction?

Remedy is with us to change the lifestyle and style of governance locally and globally. Efforts of the WCD and the world consumer movement is to educate the citizen on awareness devices.

Consumer rights and duties are recognised by the United Nations, governments, and organisations as inalienable rights and the duties of the citizen and governments is in the interest of the future generation to come.

Act No 07 0f 2003 has provided a powerful tool to the CAA to mobilise the citizen and educate them in the right directions via workshops and consumer organisations. One wonders how many consumer groups have been formed by the CAA to interact with the trader and manufacturer to strike a balance among the groups known as the consumer, trader, manufacturer and the regulator. It is the duty and the practice of the CAA to organize the WCD event annually and one wonders what the CAA has done or is doing at this end and if nothing is done let them start the process at least from next year.

The CAA and the regulators must mobilize all segments of society on this direction and the best groups are NGOs, schools, universities, places of work, religious centers, media, the citizen included.

The finger has been pointed at the CAA as it has been provided with lot of funds and power with a mission to help us.

When Cocoa Cola used water from Thames River it is the media that came forward on behalf of the consumer that was forced to kneel down.

The UK’s WHICH magazine is in the forefront of the consumer movement protecting the consumer and guiding the trader with their powerful media colleagues.

In Sri Lanka the media and NGOs have different priorities on political and human rights issues which are more lucrative and powerful than consumerism which is not lucrative enough.

Way forward

State media, NGOs and the general public must give priority to the consumerism movement as their saviour to avoid destruction of their lives, the planet and the future generation by educating and organizing themselves with the proper guidance of the CAA and other main regulators.

It is the duty of all people, organisations, states, to be a part of this, process of saving the citizen and the planet from man-made destruction.

The current trend of the young generation and governance is encouraging and the participation of the consumer individually and collectively is encouraged and admirable. It is a good sign that the media is also involved in many projects, small and large.

The media is full of disturbing and destructive news on environment disasters. We wish and hope the trend to continue as a force with the blessings and encouragement of the Regulator headed by the CAA which the consumer is dependent on.

The writer could be reached on [email protected])

The writer is a President’s Counsel, former Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority, former Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel President Ambassadors’ Forum