Bangladesh is celebrating Consumer Rights Day tomorrow while a manpower shortage is impeding market surveillance
In Narsingdi, ninth-grader Reshmi ordered a dress online. She waited for her clothes to arrive after she paid for them via a mobile banking platform.
However, she did not receive the dress from the e-commerce site. Instead, the online shop blocked her phone number because she had been asking for updates about the delivery.
Upon receiving a written complaint from Reshmi, the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) appeared at the address the shop listed on its site. DNCRP officials returned empty-handed as there was no fashion outlet at the given address.
While a number of e-commerce startups continue to gain popularity among customers, many online fraudsters are taking advantage of the online market and cheating customers. However, substandard restaurants and eateries are deceiving the people more than the blatant fraudulent activities of fake e-shops, said the DNCRP.
Upon receiving complaints – of food being made in unhygienic kitchens as well as food adulteration and overpricing – and during drives, the directorate has settled nearly 22,500 cases in Bangladesh in the last ten years.
During the period, the DNCRP resolved around 92,000 cases by issuing fines – even closing shops in some cases.
"Good-quality restaurants maintain their standards properly while medium-category eateries maintain 70 to 80 percent [of hygiene standards]. However, back-end outlets have yet to build the service structure and, specifically, they are cheating customers," Anowar Hossain Mridha, vice president of the Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association.
Anowar said the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority and the DNCRP help them improve the overall quality of the sector and there are positive changes too. "However, overall progress will require more time."
Additionally, weight tampering, not displaying price charts, adulteration, and the sale of expired products are contributing to consumer rights violations. Amid this situation, Bangladesh is celebrating World Consumer Rights Day on March 15.
Coronavirus has curtailed this year's celebration. The day focuses on issues like facilitating more options for consumers, safeguarding consumers' rights and the changes to consumers' lifestyles due to climate change.
"We are trying our best to improve the quality of products and services – ensuring the rights of the customers. However, the consumers must be more aware of their rights at the same time," said Monjur Mohammad Shahriar, deputy director of the DNCRP.
"Traders and businessmen have just come to know about consumer rights. They will take time to adopt the mentality of complying with the law," Shahriar told The Business Standard.
He believes that the Consumer Rights Protection Act-2009 has brought positive changes to the market scenario. As many as 30,295 complaints have been filed with the directorate by the consumers from the adaptation of the act till March.
"If the consumers were more aware of their rights, the number could rise even higher," said DNCRP officials.
Preferring to remain anonymous, the officials also pointed out their severe manpower crisis. They said that only five officials are appointed to monitor markets in Dhaka — a city with nearly two crore people.
Those officials are simultaneously responsible for settling complaints filed with the directorate.
Currently, each district has just one deputy director and an office assistant to look after consumers' interests – monitoring the market and settling complaints. The directorate recently placed a demand with the Ministry of Public Administration for 2,305 officials. However, the ministry approved nearly 200 staff.
"The issue of consumer rights still remains largely neglected in our country," said Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh.
"The consumers must be more vocal for their rights. At the same time, it is not logical to become obsessed with awareness-building over enhancing the capacity of the regulatory body," he added.