Consumers need protection

IF ever there was a time to protect consumers, now is that time.

That is the view of Philip McClauren, Deputy Programme Manager, Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) at the CARICOM Secretariat. McClauren, who is based at the CSME Unit in Barbados, participated in the Fair Trading Commission Lecture Series Discussion with Attorney-at-law, Ayana Young-Marshall.

He said that there was always a recognition of the need for consumer protection since they were not getting value for money. He said that this is still the reality of our times, in light of the Digital Age and the cross-border trading that is being done where the buyer and seller are not operating in the same jurisdiction.

The CSME official recalled that 56 years ago, the then American President, John F. Kennedy, introduced measures to deal with consumer rights, arguing in the process that while consumers are the largest economic group, their voices are hardly ever heard.

“Therefore there is a responsibility to protect the weak and most vulnerable among us,” McClauren declared.

He reasoned that this is very much the case, given the changes which the world and small countries have gone through as a result of the Digital Age. McClauren maintained that the Digital Age had ushered in a new revolution in the conduct of business, the emergence of new institutions (like the World Trade Organisation), the dismantling of monopolies and even changes to many of the services which were rendered by post offices.

According to him, “The days of the dynamics in the business community have changed. In the past there were the middlemen, commission agents, distributors, wholesalers, retailer and then the consumer. But now as we speak, this landscape has changed and in many ways you are now talking about the mail order business, network marketing, Amway and others.”

In view of all of this, he went on, “Consumers are now receiving goods right on their doorsteps and the revolution is the dynamics of what is referred to as the Digital Age.”

He pointed out that the Internet is no longer a luxury since it can be used to do many things, including research, an online course and other programmes, all of which have now come to the fore. McClauren stated that the question that must be asked is what should we do, whether there is a need to regulate, protect consumers. He remarked that in the past when consumers bought defected goods they had recourse by taking them back to the retailer, and when that failed, take up the matter with the FTC because the supplier and the consumer reside in the same country.

“Today, when you buy from an external retailer and the product is defective where do you turn for redress,” the CARICOM official queried.

“We are talking about cross-border transactions and these are issues for consideration,” McClauren added. (JB)

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