The Consumer Protection Act gives Indian consumers the right to be protected against marketing of unsafe and hazardous goods. Yet, we neither have a system of reporting on product related accidents and injuries nor the recall of goods found to be unsafe.
In the United States, for example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an independent federal regulatory authority, constantly monitors product safety. It not only provides a toll-free 24-hour hotline for consumers to recount product-related accidents and injuries, but also mandates that retailers, distributors and manufacturers report immediately any complaints or information pertaining to the safety of the products that they manufacture or sell. Failure to do so invites civil penalties.
In fact only last November. A large retail store had to pay $500,000 in civil penalties for failing to inform the CPSC about the hazardous nature of a particular type of outdoor candles. The candles, it was found, could flare up unexpectedly causing burn injuries or even fire. In December, an apparel retailer had to pay $60,000 as penalty for not reporting a defect in certain hooded jackets and sweaters that posed a strangulation hazard. Both these products were withdrawn from the market.
On the basis of consumer complaints and its own investigations, the CPSC directs recall of unsafe goods. It may also work with the manufacturer to rectify defects and render a product safe. In 2008, the goods recalled as unsafe or hazardous ranged from clothes and toys to household appliances, sports goods and electrical and electronic items.
Similarly, in Europe, the General Product Safety Regulations, 2005, places an obligation on manufacturers and distributors to not only provide safe goods, but also monitor the safety of their products released into the market and withdraw those found to be unsafe. They also have to put in place measures to ensure quick traceability of the product and report to the competent authority any information that comes to their knowledge pertaining to their safety.
Similarly, Canada and Australia have laws that ensure recall of unsafe and hazardous consumer products.
Unfortunately in India, we have no such scheme for enforcing product safety. We do not even have a system of collecting and analysing product related accidents to assess their safety. As a result, product recalls are rare and dependent entirely on the manufacturer. This is a major drawback and compromises consumer safety. In an expanding global market, our consumer protection laws also need to be of global standards Will the government kindly pay attention to this aspect of consumer protection this year?
(Puspa Girimaji Senior journalist, consumer affairs specialist)