Consumers Need That Protection

IN her message in observance of this year’s World Consumer Day (March 15), Minister for Commerce, Business Development, Investment and Consumer Affairs, Emma Hippolyte, had some encouraging news for consumers.

The Minister announced that her ministry is continuing its work on the draft Consumer Protection Bill, a draft of which has been presented to Cabinet by the Attorney General for consideration.

The bill is said to contain provisions that will address the plethora of concerns consumers have, not limited to the following: consumer/supplier agreement; unfair contract terms related to false, misleading and deceptive representation; and unfair and unjust transactions. Government, she said, was facing its own challenges as a consumer.

Hardly a day goes by without at least one consumer voicing concern about some unfair business practice carried out by some local business. What is ironic in many instances is that many of the businesses that pitch a customer-friendly service are among those that are taking customers for a pricey ride.

As competitive as business is these days, it seems that some businesses are willing to breach even the most basic of ethical standards to remain profitable. Even the traditional fine print has virtually flown out the show window. The more limited and abstract the contract and sales terms are to the customer seems better business for some businesses that seem more concerned with just racking up sales.

Hippolyte is hoping that with the impending enacting of key consumer protection legislation that consumers would be more “empowered to conduct business transactions with the confidence that their rights, if infringed upon, would be redressed within the parameters prescribed in the bill.”

While it remains to be seen what the meat of the legislation will be, the burning issue of consumers being at a disadvantage has been one that local advocates have been keeping fresh. As to why it took so long for such a crucial piece of legislation to make its way to Parliament might be a reflection of how serious successive administrations have deemed it. Nevertheless, the foresight to enact it needs to be commended.

Obviously, new things always come at a cost and businesses might well – justly or unjustly –pass on the cost of adjusting to the new change to the people they serve. That is where the all-important consumer can demonstrate the fortitude to report suspicious business practices to the authorities, seek redress, or simply continue to take their business elsewhere.

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