Wednesday, April 24, 2024

EDITORIAL: Consumer body sorely needed


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GIVEN the daily complaints on radio call-in programmes, social media or in letters to the editor, there are undoubtedly concerns in Barbados about the protection of consumer rights.

We have seen the positive impact of active consumer movements in North America and Europe. Their lobbying efforts have been legendary, which is why businesses and governments are often cautious about attempts to mislead consumers.

Barbados has never had a strong consumer movement. Individuals or organisations have sprung up from time to time, only to disappear quickly. Unfortunately, some have not been apolitical, thereby robbing them of the credibility of independence that any consumer body needs.

There is a clear void in consumer protection in Barbados, but no one should expect the Barbados National Standards Institute, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, the Fair Trading Commission or any other state agency to do what consumer lobbyists would do. This is why, given the multiplicity of issues, there needs to be an active organisation that can lobby and rally consumers.

Consumers are taken advantage of, whether knowingly or by coincidence, in a range of areas. There have been glaring examples in recent times that highlight the injustices customers encounter daily.

In the financial services sector, commercial banks have imposed a range of fees without fear of customer reprisals, while Government has been promising, but is yet to enact, legislation to protect thousands of people who save with the ever-expanding credit unions. To the chagrin of depositors whose savings exceed $25 000, their funds are at risk because no deposit insurance is required as with commercial banks.

In the telecoms sector, the consumer is severely disadvantaged in the matter of number portability. The use of a mobile or a landline telephone number over a period of time makes it part of an individual or organisation’s identity. Perhaps the best case is the Government, which has switched service provider and in the process undergone a major shift in numbers. Undoubtedly this has left many of its customers confused.

There are also many unsubstantiated and indeed misleading medical claims by some complementary medical businesses in Barbados. The outrageous claims about products, often not properly tested and possibly false, are allowed to slip simply because there are no clear advertising standards. Then there is the issue of labelling, enforcement or calibration and verification of systems in commercial services, matters of import licences and food safety, among a plethora of issues for which the Barbadian consumer needs redress.

It is evident that Barbadians should not wait on either business or Government to protect their consumer rights. Advocacy, and through an organised body, is the best solution. We cannot forever remain passive about such a serious matter.


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