Consumer rights in Bangladesh have strengthened to a certain extent, helped by the activities of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP).
“The level of consumer rights protection was almost zero in the past. Over the years, the situation has improved. It can be said that 30 percent of rights could be achieved,” said DNCRP Director General Md Shafiqul Islam Laskar in an interview with The Daily Star last week.
Over the past decade, the agency slapped fines amounting to Tk 42 crore on 53,424 enterprises for anti-consumer practices. Some 4,606 complainants have received a total of Tk 77 lakh as compensation.
Set up in 2009 with the mandate to protect the rights of consumers and raise awareness, the agency regularly conducts market monitoring, receives and hears complaints from consumers related to deception and resolves cases by ensuring compensation for complainants.
The association is planning to carry out a survey to get the true consumer rights picture in Bangladesh on the occasion of its ten-year anniversary, he said.
“At present, we do not have any national level data in hand that we can definitely say how far the consumer rights have progressed.”
Consumers are increasingly filing complaints against the duplicitous practices of businesses, he said.
One of the main draws for the rising number of complaints is the scope to get awarded a fourth of the realised penalty amount slapped on businesses for violation.
“No one needs to visit our office to file complaints and does not have to pay any court fee, stamp duty or to any advocate.”
One can even file complaints through emails. They will just have to appear in the hearing, Laskar said.
Cases are usually resolved in 15 days if there no complications. The DNCRP has 13 committees to hear and resolve complaints.
Businesses are at least correcting themselves in the areas where the DNCRP can go and conduct drives, Laskar said. “If we can operate more teams, we will be able to reach more places.”
The agency regularly runs drives in markets and takes measures. Two of its teams visit the markets in Dhaka city six days a week. The agency is penalising pharmacies almost every day for selling expired medicines, among other offences.
“We are working independently. We have fined Pran, ACI and Meghna Group of Industries for their faults.”
Many businesses have admitted their ignorance about the rules during public hearings and many have rectified themselves after facing the penalty.
Yet, anti-consumer activities continue unabated. Some businesses even do not want to correct their behaviour.
“We have found businesses that have violated rules even after facing fines. In such cases, we have doubled the amount of the fine we impose initially.”
The DNCRP will write to licensing authorities to scrap the registration of repeat offenders, Laskar said.
Dishonesty and high profiteering tendency among businesses is one of the main barriers to ensuring consumers rights.
The shortage of workforce and hesitation among people whether they would get remedy if they complain are also key challenges.
“We request consumers to file complaints without any hesitation. We will give them remedy.”
The number of complaints, however, is mostly concentrated in the capital. It is less at the district level and at upazila and union levels it is negligible.
This has prompted the DNCRP to take an initiative to expand its activities up to the upazila level.
“The law will not be fully implemented if our activities are not expanded,” he said, adding that the number of the committees will increase if the number of complaints rises.
The agency has also taken an initiative to revise the existing law to bring more services under its jurisdiction.
“Once the law is amended, all sellers except for vegetable and fish retailers will have to issue receipts for their sales.”
The DNCRP plans to increase the number of market drives and public hearing from next fiscal year.
It is also keeping an eye on questionable claims in advertisements.
“We have seen an advertisement of Mr Noodles where it claimed that this is the only halal (permissible in Shariah law) noodles in Bangladesh. We asked the company whether all other noodles brands are haram (not permissible in Shariah law) or are not prepared following Islamic hygiene standards.”
Afterwards, the brand has stopped making the claim.
He also lauded the initiative of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority to grade restaurants according to their hygiene standards.