CONSUMER RIGHTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

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CONSUMER RIGHTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS ARE TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN. Every human being has certain set of rights which help them in having a purposeful existence in the world, we call those rights as human rights. There are no fixed set of rights that we have declared human rights, they are evolved over the period of time according to the change of human needs. Human rights cannot be static as human needs and they will keep evolving according to the change in human needs. In the consumer driven society, consumer rights should be included in the purview of human rights. Continuous Journey of Evolution of Human Rights. The evolution of Human rights can be traced back in 6th century when the Persian Empire Cyrus The Great[1] declared freedom to their people to follow religion, freedom to live in any region, freedom from slavery, freedom to take up job of his or her choice. Since then several charters and declaration has been framed and codified different rights at different place of the world according to changing needs like the Magna Charta Libertatum of 1215, the Golden Bull of Hungary (1222), the Danish Erik Klipping’s HÃ¥ndfaestning of 1282, the Joyeuse Entrée of 1356 in Brabant (Brussels), the Union of Utrecht of 1579 (The Netherlands) and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The American Declaration of Independence of 4 July 1776 declare the rights for the people of their states which were later become the part of Bill of Rights.“All men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.[2]” The term Human Rights was appeared for the first time in the French Declaration ,French Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (1789)[3] “The representatives of the French people, organized as a National Assembly, believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man………” After the end of world war 2nd, The United Nations came into existence in the year 1945 with the objective to bring peace in the world. A committee of persons with different legal and cultural backgrounds formed which was headed by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of US president , Franklin D. Roosevelt, wrote a special document “ Universal Declaration of Human Rights[4] “ which was on 10 December, 1948. This was the first milestone document on Human Rights which was intended for the whole world. Once the declaration was made for human Rights so there was need for its acceptance and implementation. Then International Covenant on Civil and political Rights[5] and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[6] came in 1966 and enter into force in 1976.When it was felt that there is need for the international contribution for the development and implementation of human rights, Right to development came into picture. The right to development was proclaimed in the Declaration on the Right to Development[7], adopted in 1986 by the United Nations General Assembly. The need to create the right to development as human right was arised because the international community failed to realize Political, Civil; social, cultural and economic rights individually at the international level. The right to development is one human right which needs the realization of all the other human rights for its realization and for the first time, state is not the only duty bearer however international community as a whole is responsible. Now the declaration was made however there was a need for the international body that could monitor and promote the realization of human rights. Keeping this objective, The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was established by the UN General Assembly on 20th December 1993 in Vienna Declaration[8] and Programme of Action, 1993. Consumer rights V/s Human Rights Human rights are those rights which any human being needs to live a life as human being. Right to have food is not human right it’s a living right and it is a need for all living being even we give food to our cattle also but right to have food with dignity and of such quality that the person who is having it do not fall ill but get the nutrition of it which is the primary objective of having food, right to live a healthy life is a human rights and I believe it has been recognized 66 years back when intellectuals of that age declare human right and include the right to live with standard of living included in the human rights. According to Article 25, Universal declaration of Human Right[9]s,”Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including foods, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control………” According to Article 11[10], International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent….” The aim to make consumer protection strong is to assist people in realizing an adequate standard of living. The phrase “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” can serve as the basis that the consumer protection can be treated as the part of human rights. In present scenario where food adulteration, degraded quality of foods, misleading advertisements and medical negligence are so common, consumer protection need to be stronger. Adequate food includes the good quality of food, free from any kind of adulteration, which is one of the objectives of consumer protection. Adequate hosing includes two elements, one access to affordable house, which is public policy, and second, the house of good quality and safety, it would cover whether builder has utilized the proper material in the construction, whether builder has obtained all the permissions required to construct the building before selling it to consumers. Today consumer victimization in real estate is very common. According to Article 12[11], International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health…..”Article 12 under International covenant on economic social and cultural rights elaborates right to physical and mental health. Consumer protection meant to protect the consumer from hazard to his health and safety by restricting deficiency in delivery of goods and services. Consumer protection are needed for the protection of consumer health, to improve the standard of living and for the overall wellbeing of the individual, the objectives of consumer protection is synonymous to Human Rights protection. According to Article 3, Universal declaration of Human Right[12] “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. Right to life does not mean only to be alive but a healthy life, life where a person enjoys the life of human being which is not possible without have an access to safe, affordable healthcare. A person is alive but has been disabled due to medical negligence or improper treatment, can we say that he is enjoying the right to life.   According to Article 5, Universal declaration of Human Right[13], “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Although framers of declaration were not intended to refer cruelty and torture from consumer point of view however when consumers are being tortured is that not cruelty. Here want to narrate two examples: Example 1: Medical Negligence Deprived off woman from her Motherhood. Complaint no: 502698 / National Consumer Helpline This is the incident of medical negligence where a complainant from Rewa, reported complaint against Guru Kripa Nursing Home Madhya Pradesh. She was pregnant and had bleeding so she visited the nursing home in May 2012. The Doctor advised her to abort her child as it was a miscarriage and charged her Rs. 3000 as fees for the same and prescribed her medicine for a month. But she was not getting well and still she was experiencing severe pain, she consulted another doctor in Varanasi and Doctor informed her that the abortion has not been done and her uterus is infected and may blast any time. Doctor suggested her for operation which cost her 70,000 rupees and risk to her life. Due to this operation she cannot conceive in Future. She made a complaint to Lok Sunwai branch of Local Police (MP) but no action was taken.[14] In this case, Consumer cannot conceive in future, medical negligence has taken the right of a lady to enjoy her motherhood and also put her life in danger, this is the example of Human Rights violation. Example 2: Consumer was deprived off his right to Liberty and experienced great metal torture due to negligence of Airport Authority.[15]Complaint no: 466314 / National Consumer Helpline / June 2013 The complainant boarded at New Delhi Airport for Journey to Bangkok on Indigo Airlines on 29 May, 2013. The passenger was detained at Bangkok Airport for 4 hrs for investigation and later released. The complainant when reached Hotel, they asked him to show his passport, passport was not stamped and they made a complaint to police for non - stamping. Police kept him in prison for 2 days. One of his relative has to go to Bangkok to help him to release from there. This complaint was against Delhi Airport Authority / Indigo Airlines for their mistake of not stamping the passport for which consumer had to embarrassed, spent 2 days in locker and faced lots of harassment at the hands of Immigration Officers at the Bangkok Airport. When I called the National Consumer Helpline from where I took these examples of consumer grievances, I came to know one more grievance that to make complain is also not easy. I tried for two days to call them to know the result of such complain but I could not connect to any human voice and was keep connected to the IVR. Acceptance of Consumer Rights as Human Rights In International Community. The importance of consumer rights has received the acceptance by international Community. Some nations have also accepted consumer right as constitutional rights in their constitution however it has not been completely accepted as human right which I believe is the next thing going to happen. 1985 United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP)[16] UNGCP is the first and most important document which has given acceptance to the importance of consumer protection at international level. Although it is different from treaties as these guidelines are not binding on any nation. However it can be considered as an important step towards the acceptance of consumer rights as human rights. Esther Peterson[17] who supports the view that consumer rights be treated as human rights wrote in an article published after the adoption of United Nation Guidelines on Consumer Protection: “International guidelines can serve as a Charter of Human Rights in the consumer area. That does not mean that every nation would scrupulously obey and implement those principles. Many may not. But the existence of a UN-sponsored Charter of Consumer Rights can simply not be ignored by any nation which wishes to be considered civilized.”[18]   OECD Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of Electronic Commerce (1999)[19] OECD guidelines for Consumer protection is another important document for the protection of consumer at the international scale. These guidelines are also not legally binding however there is strong moral obligation among nations to implement and accept these guidelines which has been jointly drafted by them. Constitutional Acceptance Many countries like Spain, Brazil, Portugal, and Switzerland have integrated consumer protection in their constitution. Provisions for consumer protection in constitution make the state responsible to protect the consume rights. What change will it bring in consumer protection? It will not change the picture of consumer conditions over a night; it may also not bring much change in the consumer protection laws however it will bring the change in the attitude of companies/authorities/courts to take the consumer more seriously. Declaration of consumer rights as human rights at the international level will bring unanimity of consumer rights at the international level and no nation can easily ignore it. It will promote the international trade because today consumer is not limited by national boundaries if they have a sense of protection and security; they will cross the national boundaries easily to purchase goods/ services in the international market. Today different countries have different consumer protection laws but they are not unanimous and international consumer are not aware of those laws and how effective those laws are to protect consumer, therefore consumer hesitate and restrict themselves to national boundaries. United Nation Guidelines for Consumer Protection[20] is the good step towards the acceptance of importance of consumer protection at international level however it does not have any binding force. Nations may follow it or may not however if it would be considered as human rights then it would have better protections and acceptance at the international level. The need of Consumer rights as human rights are felt when there is conflict of interest between consumer’s rights and other rights. For example Freedom of Occupation[21] is a constitutional right. This law states that every citizen can practice any occupation and that the freedom can be restricted only by a statute enacted for a proper cause and for the public benefit. If a license to practice any trade is denied due to the consumer protection. The court has to determine the proper cause. The tendency of court is to restrict the infringement of constitutional right, the court may decide that the occupation right, as constitutional right, overrides consumer right. However if consumer right be declared as human right then it would enable them to be considered equally with constitutional rights. The need of Consumer rights as human rights are felt when there is conflict of interest between consumers and the business organization. There is inequality in the bargaining power as an individual consumer is one party and a strong economic organization is the other party. The business organization can impose its will on the consumer on take it or leave it basis. This inequality of bargaining power can be eliminated by strong consumer protection legislations. Consumer rights are meant to prevent abuse of powers of big business organization which is similar to economic human rights which protect individual from the abuse of powers of government. For example, in Gurgaon Haryana toll, the toll authorities increase the charges of the toll tax even more than double, it is simple example of “take or leave it”. My understanding says that if consumer rights would be human rights , these authorities would have thought twice before doing it this what is required that authorities / companies think twice before taking any action which may go against consumer. In India we call customer as god however we are not ready to accept consumer as human being. Conslusion Human rights are individual rights and it implies the obligation on government of not only refrain from certain action but also has the duty to protect those rights of an individual from infringement by other individuals. Similarly consumer rights are individual right of every individual in the consumerism society where we cannot separat consumer from human being . when a person born till his or her last funeral an indivdual is consumer of end number of insitutions. Starting from hospital where a child is born, education is taken, till his body is cremated at cremation house . Change is the part of life and we need to accept this change that consumer rights are not different from human rights. The only reason it is not yet accepted because the governments of developed countries are capable of protecting their consumer rights by different ways however the governements of developing countries where people are not able to fulfill their living needs are busy other things that they are not able to protect their consumer rights. Despite of all the laws and legal system we have, malpractices continue to occur, food adulteration, delinquency in delivery of services are common. Then we need to think something is missing something more prominent and strong is needed which can put stop on these malpractices and today we are living in global world , deals globally , sale purchase of goods or services are also happening at global level. Consumer rights may dealt differently in different nations, international convention on consumer rights are not binding it would be the right thing to accept consumer rights as human rights and Human rights which cannot protect human needs are useless. Today it is the need of the day to accept that consumer rights fall within the purview of Human rights. As we all know that the Malaysia aircraft is disappeared in the sky with 250 people and it is discovered that two people are with fake passport and there could be the chances of hijacking and there is also some news that it can turn into 09/11 for India as per its directions. we cannot exclude that there is some deficiency of service on the part of airport authority by which these two people escaped with fake passport. It is important understand the seriousness of consumer protection which cannot separated from human protection. In India there is a saying that “customers are equivalent to god”. However we are not ready to accept customer as Human Being, I just want that we treat the consumer as human being that will be enough.
[1]Cyrus Charter of Human Rights Cylinder/Available at http://www.farsinet.com/cyrus/ [2] Robert Hole / The American Declaration of Independence of July 4th, 1776 /Available at http://www.historytoday.com/robert-hole/american-declaration-independence-july-4th-1776 [3] Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen/ Available at: http://www.constitution.org/fr/fr_drm.htm [4] Universal Declaration of Human Rights/ Available at http://www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/pages/introduction.aspx [5] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights/ Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx [6] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights/ Available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx [7] Declaration on the Right to Development/ Available at : http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/41/a41r128.htm [8] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action/ Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/vienna.aspx [9] Universal declaration of Human Rights/ Available at :http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ [10] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights/ Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx [11] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights/ Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx [12] Universal declaration of Human Rights/ Available at :http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ [13] Ibid. [14]National Consumer Helpline/ Available at http://www.nationalconsumerhelpline.in/interesting-cases.aspx [15] Ibid [16] United Nations Guidelines For Consumer Protection/Available at: http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/poditcclpm21.en.pdf [17] Esther Eggertsen Peterson (December 9, 1906 – December 20, 1997) was a lifelong consumer and women's advocate, Esther Peterson was a representative of the International Organization of Consumer Unions (Iocu) before Ecosoc at the United Nations. She served under two United States Presidents as Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs and as Chairman of the President's Committee on Consumer Interests. From 1970 to 1977, Ms. Peterson was Vice President of Consumer Programs and Consumer Adviser to the President at Giant Food Corporation [18] Sina Deutch /Are Consumer Rights Human Rights /Available at http://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1668&context=ohlj [19]OECD Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of Electronic Commerce (1999)/Available at http://www.oecd.org/sti/consumer/oecdguidelinesforconsumerprotectioninthecontextofelectroniccommerce1999.htm [20] United Nations Conference On Trade And Development /Available at: http://unctad.org/en/docs/poditcclpm21.en.pdf [21] Article 19(1)(g), The Indian Constitution/ http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/1218090/
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