Ignorance and complacency costs consumers millions of dollars: Council

01/04/2010 10:03

Consumers in Fiji lose millions of dollars every year either because they are ignorant of their consumer rights and responsibilities or are too complacent to complain. The Consumer Council of Fiji statistics for the past two years reveal that the Council received about 3200 complaints with a dollar value of more than $5 million. And while the Council was able to provide redress to almost 80% of these complainants, we are afraid that a vast number of consumers in Fiji are losing millions and millions of dollars each year either because they were not aware of their rights or were too complacent and keep quiet about the abuse.

Today (April 1, 2010) is the 50th anniversary of Consumers International (CI), the global federation of consumer organisations, and to mark this occasion the Council would like to urge all consumers in Fiji to make themselves aware of their consumer rights and responsibilities. Consumers International, initially created by five consumer organisations in 1960, was formed with the desire to help ordinary people make informed buying decisions and get good value for their money as a post-war consumer boom took hold.

 This is a good occasion to remind ourselves, as consumers, about the rights we inherit due to the fact of being consumers. In Fiji, consumers are short-changed everyday either through sale of defective, expired or underweight products, poor customer service, by being over-charged or through misleading advertisements. Unfortunately, very few people seek recourse to their consumer rights and try to get what is rightfully theirs using the arms of law.

In many cases the consumers do not know their rights however, many consumers also think that getting recourse is too much of a trouble and it is not for them but for the social activists or consumer advocates to fight for their rights. This is a culture of complacency and is very much prevalent in Fiji. One is sold a product that is not his money’s worth, yet one keeps quiet. Hence, unscrupulous business people continue to sell shoddy goods and services-and getting away with it.

Every individual is a consumer, regardless of occupation, age, gender, community or religious affiliation. Consumer rights and welfare are now an integral part of the life of an individual. If the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety maybe threatened and the national interest suffers. At the end of the day, consumers must be ready to fight for their rights, if they are to get value for their money. And they can only do that fruitfully if they have proper understanding of their rights

Consumers in Fiji can learn a lot from the struggles and achievements of Consumers International. CI has had an incredible influence on the development of the consumer rights in the past 50 years, be it successfully campaigning for United Nations guidelines on consumer protection, or the development of consumer protection model laws for countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is no exaggeration to say that billions of consumers have benefitted from CI’s campaign and lobbying efforts over the past five decades.

CI has also provided a lot of assistance to the Council in many areas such as research, capacity building, testing of products and campaigns etc. This assistance has helped the Council to advocate and lobby on consumers’ interests in various ways.  

The Council, which has been a member of the Consumers International for 30 years, has organised a formal event to celebrate CI’s 50th birthday.  The celebration will take place at Fiji National University Raiwai Campus today from 9am. A cake will be cut and the Head of CI-Kula Lumpur, Regional Office of the Asia Pacific and the Middle East Dato Indrani Thuriasigham will speak on the struggles of CI in the past 50 years. The Head of European Union HE. Mr. Weipke Van Der Goot will also officially address the guests at the ceremony.