Shajoe Lake | Consumers need to know about their rights and protection
As a consumer, do you know your rights? We make it known, sometimes at the top of our voices, when a product is faulty or we are dissatisfied with the standard of service. Perhaps we get our money back, or the product is exchanged, and maybe we are satisfied with an apology. The question is, do you have to make a purchase in order to be a consumer? If our health and well-being are being affected, what rights do we have? What don’t we know? Who is responsible for providing that information? In this two-part article, we share fundamental information and the policies in place to protect our rights.
CONSUMER PROTECTION Guidelines
The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection are underpinned by eight main consumer rights, some of which are human rights.
• The right to satisfaction of basic needs – access to basic, essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, public utilities, water, and sanitation.
• The right to safety – protection against products, production processes, and services that are hazardous to health or life.
• The right to be informed – ability to make informed choices and protection against dishonest or misleading advertising and labelling.
• The right to choose – ability to select from a range of competitively priced products and services, with assured quality standards.
• The right to be heard – adequate representation in the making and execution of government policy and in the development of products and services as identified in Section 4 of the Consumer Protection Act.
• The right to redress – fair settlement of just claims, including compensation for the misrepresentation of inferior products or unsatisfactory services.
• The right to consumer education – knowledge and skills that enable informed, confident choices, awareness of basic consumer rights and responsibilities, and how to seek redress, if necessary.
• The right to a healthy environment – preservation of communities in which the well-being of present and future generations is maintained (National Consumer Federation)
It is against this background that consumer organisations lead the charge in educating and empowering consumers, particularly in ensuring better food systems. Despite the number of protections and rights to support a healthy food environment, and growing awareness of what constitutes a healthy diet, the limited healthy options available in the market suggests that our right to choose is being affected. This is exacerbated by confusing food labelling, which is also difficult to understand. Now more than ever, consumers want to make healthy choices to support a healthy immune system and overall wellness. Healthier options and easily understood information would go a far way in realising that goal.
The Consumer Affairs Commission is responsible for informing, educating, and empowering consumers, and for promoting private consumer organisations such as the National Consumers League of Jamaica (NCLJ). Established in 1966, the NCLJ not only promotes and protects the rights of the consumer, but for years, has represented and lobbied for the rights of the consumers with government and those who supply and distribute goods and services.
In so doing, the NCLJ has collaborated on the “Right to Know” campaign in partnership with The Heart Foundation of Jamaica, the Pan American Health Organization, the Paediatric Association of Jamaica, the Caribbean Institute for Health Research, and the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Like other global consumer-rights groups, the League believes that the rights of the consumer, particularly as it relates to health, takes priority over financial profit. Now that we know our fundamental rights, we need to ensure that these rights are protected.
- Shajoe Lake is a master of law candidate in Global Health Law, at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.