It is essential to know the various methods or approaches to consumer protection. The following are the approaches to consumer protection.
Approaches to Consumer Protection
- Consumer Education
- Consumer Organisations
- Legal Framework
- Self-Protection by Consumer
- Self-Regulation by Business
- Government Participation in Business
1. Consumer Education
One of the severe reasons identified for the cause of consumer problems is the need for more consumer education for numerous consumers in developing and developed countries. Research studies have proved that most consumers must be aware of new things. Consumer sovereignty and freedom are possible only when the consumers are educated. Consumer education focuses on the need to organize consumers. The educated consumer group wants appropriate resource allocation, production processes, and distribution. In other words, consumer education maximizes personal satisfaction at minimum cost.
Ways for Giving Consumer Education
The following are the ways for imparting consumer education :
(i) Through educational institutions
India has a vast network of schools, colleges, institutions and universities. The students are the country’s future citizens and consumers of various goods and services. If consumer education is part of the curriculum right from the school level, it is possible to transform every student into a wise consumer.
(ii) Through government machinery
In any country, the Government should take responsibility for educating the consumers. The Government may use adult programs, information centers established in various parts of the country, electronic and print media, etc.
(iii) Through voluntary consumer organizations and social organizations
In many countries, voluntary consumer organizations are crucial in imparting consumer education. These organizations can reach many sections of the society. They can share the problems of the consumers and make them empowered consumers.
Consumerism has been defined as a social movement seeking to increase the powers and rights of buyers concerning sellers. It is a movement that strives to augment the rights and power of consumers of products and services. It is one of the important approaches to consumer protection. Consumers invited and launched a movement to exercise their rights. This movement changed the maxim caveat emptor to caveat vendor (let the seller beware).
Approaches to Consumerism
Consumerism may be possible through the following approaches:
(i) Self Regulation
The business community itself can ensure consumer protection and satisfaction through self-discipline. Businessmen can regulate their behavior and actions by adopting a code of ethics. They should formulate and apply consumer-oriented marketing strategies. Self-control will help avoid stringent Government control, allowing reasonable freedom for business. Trade associations and chambers of commerce should strive to check the malpractices some businessmen adopt.
(ii) Consumer Associations
The associations of consumers can play a vital role in ensuring consumer protection and satisfaction. These associations educate and tell consumers about their rights. Consumer associations can force businessmen to avoid malpractices and victimization of consumers. These associations have been given a locus stand in many laws.
(iii) Alert Consumer
The consumer himself must be alert and active. He should not tolerate cheating and victimization. “Self-help is the best help”. Therefore, the consumer should take the cheaters to task.
(iv) State Support
All the wings of the Government-legislature, judiciary, and executive-each assist consumer movement. The legislature enacts laws for consumer protection. The judiciary interprets laws and suggests modifications therein. The executive strictly enforces the laws. The administrative support the Government to consumerism is illustrated below:
3. Consumer Organizations
Consumer organizations are playing a significant role in protecting consumers as it is one of the approaches to consumer protection. They also positively contribute to enhancing the level of consumer satisfaction. Consumer organizations have made a hallmark in the history of the movement for consumers not only in developed countries like the U.S.A., the U.K., Canada, Japan, etc. but also in developing countries like India. It is the contribution of these organizations that today, consumers can freely talk about their rights and demand their implementation. Many times, laws have been modified and framed under their pressure.
In India, there are about 500 consumer organizations. Consumer organizations that significantly impacted the consumer movement are VOICE, Grahak Panchayat, Mahila Upbhokta Sangthan, Consumer Action Group, Common Cause, Madras Provincial Consumer Organisations, etc.
Consumer organizations are engaged in performing various activities, which can be grouped into six categories such as:
(i) Consumer awareness and education.
(ii) Product appraisal.
(iii) Protection of consumer rights.
(iv) Handling consumer complaints.
(v) Redressing grievances of consumers.
(vi) Conducting research.
Besides this, they also act as the voice of consumers. They represent consumers at different national as well as local grievance settlement agencies.
4. Legal Framework
The Government of India has enacted more than thirty laws to improve the lot of consumers. These laws are the approaches to consumer protection. Some of these laws are summarized below:
(i) The Contract Act, 1872
This law prescribes the conditions in which promises made by the parties to a contract (buyers and sellers) shall be legally binding on each other. It lists the remedies available to one party if the other party fails to honor his promise.
(ii) The Sale of Goods Act, 1930
It safeguards goods’ buyers if they do not fulfill the express or implied conditions and warranties. The seller’s title to goods is not defective, the goods correspond with the description or sample, or the goods are of high quality or fitness are the express warranties.
(iii) The Law of Torts
Under this law, consumers are entitled to damages if they suffer loss due to any defective, unfit, or dangerous product. This right arises where the seller is negligent, has defrauded the user, or has committed a wilful act.
(iv) The Essential Commodities Act, 1955
This law ensures equitable distribution of essential commodities at reasonable prices to consumers. The Central Government is empowered to regulate the production, supply, distribution, storage, transport, and prices of commodities declared essential under this law.
(v) The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954
It was enacted to abolish excessive food adulteration and to ensure purity in food articles to maintain public health.
(vi) The Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976
It is designed to establish standards of weights and measures and to regulate interstate trade or commerce in weights and measures and other goods sold or distributed by weight, measure, or number. It protects consumers against malpractice, underweight, or under-measure.
(vii) The Trade and Merchandise Marks Act, 1958
It provides better protection and registration for the trademarks and prevents the use of fraudulent marks on merchandise. It helps to protect consumers against products.
(viii) The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969
It was enacted to protect consumers from monopolistic, restrictive, and unfair trade practices. In addition to the above, the following laws also help to protect consumers:
- Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act, 1937.
- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.
- The Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1981.
- The Cigarettes (Regulation, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1935.
- The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
- The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
- The Indian Penal Code, 1861.
- The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.
- The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
- The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
- The Export (Quality Control and Insertion) Act, 1965.
- The Hire-purchase Act, 1972.
- The Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980.
- The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.
- The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991.
- The Specific Relief Act, 1963.
5. Self-Protection by Consumer
Indian consumers become victims quickly of any exploitation. Unfortunately, he does not react to sellers’ wrong dealings. In turn, he ignores exploitation as if it only occurred to him. He fears sharing information about the nature of exploitation. Self-protection is also one of the approaches to consumer protection. However, he has several remedies to safeguard his interests, such as government legislation, government participation in business, consumer organizations, and self-protection.
Amongst the various remedies, the best remedy is self-protection. For this, the consumer must be aware of his rights. As per the Consumer Protection Act 1986, a consumer will get the right to be protected and informed and have a choice to be heard, to seek redressal, and to consumer education. He should ask for his rights if he feels deprived of his rights. It is his foremost duty. He should fight against exploitation and seek redressal for his grievances.
6. Self-Regulation by Business
Only when a business realizes its responsibility for serving the interest of consumers can a remedy effectively protect consumer rights. Therefore, the business should take the initiative in realizing its responsibility towards the consumers. Self-regulation is one of the approaches to consumer protection. However, the following steps have been taken by Indian businesses for self-regulation and to ensure better services to consumers :
(i) The Council of Fair Business Practices (CFBP), established by some industrialists in 1968, adopted a code of conduct that applies to all businessmen to charge only fair and reasonable prices. It is done to maintain precision in weights and measures, not to trade in sub-standard goods, and not to publish misleading advertisements.
(ii) The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has played a leading role in creating an environment of responsibility among Indian businessmen. In 1984, it adopted the principles of business ethics for implementation by its members. The FICCI has requested its members to set up consumer affairs cells to compensate for consumer problems.
(iii) The Consumer Complaint Council (CCI) and Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) were established by confident businessmen to regulate advertisements.
(iv) ASSOCHAM, an association of businessmen, set up an export committee to study the issue of consumer affairs.
(v) Some companies, like Voltas Ltd. TISCO, opened a separate department for attending consumer affairs. The Consumer Affairs Department is the Department of Corporate Affairs (DCA) sub-division.
7. Government Participation in Business
From the time of gaining independence, the Government of India started concentrating on catering to its population’s minimum needs and protecting consumers’ interests. Government participation in business is the approaches to consumer protection. The role of the Government in protecting the interests of consumers by way of participating in business can be seen as follows:
(i) Establishment of consumer cooperatives.
(ii) Establishment of Fair-Price Shops.
(iii) Establishment of Consumer Affair Cell under BIS (Bureau of Indian Standard).(iv) Administered pricing.
(v) Regulated marketing.