Watchdog Presses for “Consumer Justice,” Pushes Review of the Consumer Protection Act

An environmental health group campaigning for consumer information and protection against hazardous chemicals, products and wastes asked the authorities to uphold “consumer justice” as the World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) is observed on Friday, March 15.

March 15 marks the day in 1962 when the late US President John F. Kennedy told Congress that: “Consumers, by definition, include us all. They are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group... whose views are often not heard.”

In a statement, the EcoWaste Coalition supported the call led by Consumers International (CI) for “Consumer Justice Now,” the theme for this year’s WCRD, with a specific plea for a participatory process to review and strengthen Republic Act 7394, or the Consumer Protection Act of the Philippines that was approved on April 13, 1992.

“We are one with the global consumer movement in seeking for consumer justice and protection in all aspects of our lives from cradle to grave, from homes to schools, playgrounds, hospitals and work places, from the bangketa and palengke to the malls,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition's Project Protect.

“Whether it is the illegal sale of botcha, mercury-tainted skin whitening products, leaded paints and toys, plastics and toxins dumped in waterbodies, or stench and smoke from basura in sidewalks and dumps, stronger consumer protection is always part of the solution,” she said.

“Twenty-one years after its approval, we need to ask if the Consumer Protection Act has effectively promoted our basic rights and responsibilities as consumers, if it has empowered our consumers to use and defend these rights and if it has delivered the consumer justice that we aspire for,” she emphasized.

Consumer justice, the EcoWaste Coalition said, can be a rallying cry applicable to  consumers from all walks of life, but most especially for those that are marginalized by virtue of their lack of information to make sound choices, lack of access to redress, lack political power, and poverty.

Citing Article 2 of R.A. 7394, the EcoWaste Coalition reiterated that it is the state policy “t
o protect the interests of the consumer, promote his general welfare and to establish standards of conduct for business and industry.”

In furtherance of the said policy, R.A.7394 requires the state to enforce measures to realize these objectives:

(a) protection against hazards to health and safety;
(b) protection against deceptive, unfair and unconscionable sales acts and practices;
(c) provision of information and education to facilitate sound choice and the proper exercise of rights by the consumer;
(d) provision of adequate rights and means of redress; and
(e) involvement of consumer representatives in the formulation of social and economic policies.

The review of R.A. 7394 should be an inter-agency and multi-sectoral process involving the concerned committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Health, Food and Drug Administration and other implementing agencies, business associations, consumer protection groups, environmental and health watch groups, the media and other stakeholders, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

“Consumer Justice Now” was chosen as WCRD theme to coincide with the update of the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection (UNGCP), the revision process of which will be completed in 2014.   

The UNCGP, first agreed in 1985 and last updated in 1999, is an international reference point for the consumer rights movement. The challenge is to bring the Guidelines up to date and make it relevant for today's consumers, the CI said.

CI will be supporting new provisions on issues such as financial services, energy and consumer representation and provide proposals on how the UNGCP can better address the concerns of today's consumers.
"The decision to update the UN Guidelines gives us the first opportunity in over a decade to raise the standards of consumer protection around the world. I'm sure all CI members and supporters will want to join together to make this one of the biggest WCRD we have ever had," said CI Director General Helen McCallum.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.