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Youth

How the youth can promote consumer protection

How the youth can promote consumer protection
The Youth, the Media and the Promotion of Consumerism: A Track to Attain ASEAN Economic Utopia

by Michael P. Vale,
Partido State University

1st Prize Winner, On-the-spot Essay-Writing Contest on Consumerism for College Students,
sponsored by DTI-Camarines Sur in celebration of Consumer Welfare Month 2015

ASEAN

Economic initiatives to bring the whole nation to economic prosperity, aimed towards increasing investments, domestic trade and employment, has been the focus of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for the past decades. This encouraged healthy competition in the market, which in turn provided more opportunities for consumer choices.

As the competition among local businesses became steeper,  and with the influx of products from foreign markets, the demand for more applicable laws became the concern of both the producer and the consumer. The state has therefore focused on empowering the consumer to be more responsible in making choices.  The production sector had also been challenged to provide satisfaction to its most cherished consumers at all times.

We are presently being confronted by the recent move towards the economic integration of the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indeed, this integration has opened our doors to the arena of free and borderless trade with the struggling economies in the ASEAN region, but it also opened more opportunities for consumer abuses by some unscrupulous businessmen.  Even if modernization has brought us to another dimension, still the basic economic principle that the consumer is not always satisfied and has unlimited wants, and that the producer is always after his profit, are inevitable. To address this conflict, the government adheres to the economic mantra of honest and responsible trade - only through positive consumerism.

Consumerism starts with the knowledge of the consumer’s rights and responsibilities which the producers must respect and conform with. This outlines the privileges that every consumer can enjoy and the responsibilities he has to practice if he wants to get the best value out of his hard-earned money. We, the youth, can empower other consumers and also contribute to the economic stability of our nation and of the whole ASEAN region.  This starts with the exercise of our own rights, and the performance of our rightful duties as consumers. And once done, we can now extend to educating others via the use of the tool that we are all so comfortable with in sharing information -  the Social Media.

But first things first, we are human beings. No youth can ever do something about empowering others or even empowering ourselves if we are deprived of our right to basic needs.  Thus, the government must ensure that everyone has access to basic and prime commodities, with enough supply and at reasonable prices.  In the Philippines for instance, the approval of Republic Act 7581 paved the way for the creation of the Local Price Coordinating Council (LPCC) that helps ensure the availability of basic goods such as food, medicines, clothing and other household necessities, and recommends the imposition of a price ceiling if deemed appropriate during times of emergencies and calamities. The law also ensures protection from acts of illegal price manipulation such as ‘hoarding’ or the over-accumulation of goods beyond normal  inventory for the purpose of creating an artificial shortage in the market.  Consumers are also protected from ‘profiteering’ or the over-pricing of products, as evidenced by the absence of a price tag (which is also punishable under Republic Act 71 or the Price Tag Law), and from the illegal business arrangement called ‘cartel’, or the agreement between two or more institutions selling the same products, to sell such products at very high prices, taking advantage of the consumers who could not find alternative sources of the commodity.  As youth in the ASEAN countries, we all have the right to basic needs. So if in case we catch anybody starting to do some panic-buying during an emergency or calamity, we can message him or her through Facebook right away!

Next is our right to safety. In the context of ASEAN  economic integration and the idea of free and borderless trade, the flow of products and services will be very smooth. As much as this brings about more choices for us, it also opens our doors to the threats of unsafe and injurious products. This happens when more legitimate products are overpowered by the substandard ones which are usually smuggled or are circulated by unscrupulous traders. In our country, to ensure that all will be safe, the authorities have set forth standards on certain local and imported products that can affect life, health and safety. For Philippine-made products, we look for the Philippine Standards (PS) mark, while for imported products, we look for the Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) mark. Our right to safety also extends to every Service and Repair Establishment (SRE) that needs to be accredited by the government to be operational. Services must also ensure safety among consumers.  So, if by any chance any of us will see goods that do not pass the standards set forth by certifying bodies, and that there are service and repair enterprises in our communities that do not have any accreditation at all, we already know what to do. We just need to grab our smart phone, snap a photo, and post it to Instagram for our followers to be warned! If this warning reaches the authorities, then be ready and hope that they will be using their powers to prohibit, seize or recall the product (or service) from the market.

As products from the ASEAN region join existing products we are currently importing from Europe, the Americas, Japan, China, and other parts of the world, we are challenged to make better choices.  As consumers, we have the right to choose.  However, we must be aware of each product’s true value and usefulness, so that we can avoid being wasteful consumers.  Products appreciated are usually posted at Facebook.

We consumers also have the right to information. As much as the internet brought about easier communication with  people from different parts of the world, it has also provided a lot of information about products we bought or are about to buy. We can use the Internet in conducting e-commerce with our Asian neighbours.  We are protected by Republic Act 7394 or the Consumer Act in this regard. Under the labelling law of the Philippines for example, the state ensured that every information regarding the use, directions and ingredients of the products we are about to buy are clearly stated in the language we understand, and foreign characters are translated either in English or Filipino. Also, it is expected that what is stated in the label should be the same thing that is  inside the package. Under this law, we are sure that our credit transactions are disclosed to us properly. Meaning, that all the  terms of payment and interest rates on our loan or credit transaction are clearly stated. There must also be no hidden charges that may be applied. The right to information enables us to be informed of the possible consequences of whatever choice we will make. We can make better decisions, and avoid  being an impulsive buyer.  I believe that such wise decisions are worth tweeting on Twitter.  Also, false advertising, which brings false information, must be reported.  Honesty in advertising and sales promotions will greatly benefit the consumer, as these can hopefully lessen wasteful spending among bargain addicts.  Such benefits to the bargain addict is an information worth mentioning  in LinkedIn.

As consumers, we also have the right to redress.  We must keep evidences of sales and service transactions, so that we can look forward to repair, refund and replacement of any faulty product we had bought, or refund on payment for sub-standard or undelivered service. Under this right, we can approach proper agencies during times that we have complaints against manufacturers, sellers and service providers. In our country, for instance, we can approach the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for any complaints on products and services,  the Department of Health (DOH) for food and products for health and wellness, the Department of Agriculture (DA) for agricultural products, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) for finance-related transactions in pawnshops and other financial institutions, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for insurance disputes, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for telecommunication services, and the Local Government Unit (LGU) for non-conformance of business establishments to local ordinances. If we know our right to redress, we cannot be easily exploited, and we will always be sure to get a fair deal.  And as critically aware consumers, it is expected that we will be writing about it in our Blogspaces.
Now, who says that only politicians have a say in legislation? Very wrong! As consumers, we have the right to propose laws and ordinances in the national and local legislative bodies about consumer empowerment and protection as long as it is for the benefit of the majority. We just need to look for lawmakers to sponsor our crafted laws. We also have the right to form organizations that will represent the consumer sector.   This  is our right to representation. As ASEAN youth, perhaps we can also propose legislations in international law-making bodies. We only need to have our voices heard by the law-makers on mercantile law and product/service standards from the ASEAN member-states. So, what about video-conferencing with these consumerism law-makers through Skype, anyone?

Next is our right to a healthy environment. We all know that the natural resources in the ASEAN countries have long been exploited by the conquerors that came and stayed for decades or centuries. In our country, the government ensures that no irresponsible businessmen will ever exploit and destroy our natural resources. We can report actions that result to the degradation of our natural resources. We can also request the Local Government Units to enact laws and ordinances pertaining to waste disposal systems and even enforce the construction of Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF).  As consumers, we can responsibly contribute through the proper disposal of our wastes, thereby showing our social concern. And as socially-concerned individuals who are fans of the latest music videos, it will be more fun if we can make videos campaigning on environment conservation, and share our videos on YouTube.

For the youth, the most important right is our right to consumer education. In the Philippines, the Department of Education has integrated consumer education in the curricula. Furthermore, agencies like the DTI are doing their best to advocate consumer protection and empowerment. If consumers remain uneducated, we can be panic buyers, bargain addicts, and  impulsive and wasteful consumers. But if we are educated, then we can be intelligent buyers who at all times are aware of the price, quality and consequences of every commodity or service we purchase in the market.

The challenge to us youth, therefore, is to become instruments of consumer empowerment.  It  will be more fun if we can share, post, tweet, subscribe and capture actions that promote consumer welfare and protection.  In the end, the success of an ASEAN economy is in our hands.  We must strive to follow the track towards more honest and responsible trade, and the track of positive consumerism towards economic utopia.  As youth, we must strive to make it unstoppable, and above all, inevitable.

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