Consumer right to safety is as vast in its purview as the market reach itself. It applies to all possible consumption patterns and to all goods and services. In the context of the new market economy and rapid technological advances affecting the market, the right to safety has become a pre-requisite quality in all products and services. For e.g. some Indian products carry the ISI mark, which is a symbol of satisfactory quality of a product. Similarly, the FPO and AGMARK symbolise standard quality of food products. The market has for long made consumers believe that by consuming packaged food or mineral water, consumers can safeguard their health. This notion has been proved wrong time and again due to rampant food adulteration in market products. Right to food safety is an important consumer right since it directly affects the health and quality of life of consumers. Earlier, the interpretation of the right to safety was limited to electronic products and other such products. Now, its definition has expanded a lot to include safety aspects of new technologies like GM food, food labelling, chemical ingredients in food products etc. In today’s scenario of globalisation, consumers have no control over where the products or commodities they use come from. For instance, the chocolates or syrups we consume may be manufactured in countries as far as the U.S. or Australia. Consumers in India would have no control over or knowledge of the manufacturing practices of those countries and will have to rely completely on import regulations of the Indian government and food labelling. This makes the consumer right to safety a very important and critical issue for consumers. Safety of natural food products is also a problem of growing concern since due to increased chemical inputs in farms, our food supply is being contaminated with pesticides and chemicals. This poses a grave danger to consumer health. For non-vegetarians, the problem is even more serious since food animals are being fed anti-biotics to fight diseases among animals and boost their growth. This can have serious repercussions on consumer health. Responsibility towards safe waste disposal – Most often we consume without sparing any thought for what’s going to be left behind as waste. More and more percentage of waste generated in urban areas today consists of non-biodegradable waste. Urban consumers are making use of plastic, paper and cardboard packaging, disposables batteries, plastic throw-away pens, use and throw nappies ,empty cans etc are becoming a common feature of an urban dustbin. India’s urban population is around 300 million. In 2011, the total quantity of solid waste generated in urban areas is almost crossing 56 million tonnes, creating a waste management crisis for urban India. Consumers need to become accountable for their consumption patterns and their serious environmental and economic implications. The 4 Rs of consumption (Reduce, Recycle, Refuse and Reuse) are not just a consumer’s prerogative but also his consumer responsibility. The consumer movement needs active participation of consumers to lobby with the government, pressure the market to deliver better quality, and to support consumer rights campaigns. Empowerment of consumers by NGOs and public campaigns is a two-way process and without continuing consumer support, no campaign can flourish.
Women consumers not only constitute 50% of the total consumer population but also make 80% of all purchase decisions. They are being specifically targeted by the market because of their growing purchasing power and their ‘working-woman’ status. Now, women have the dual role of family-makers and work professionals to play. As a result, they have less time, increased pressures and are slowly being de-linked from their traditional knowledge bank. The market takes advantage of this situation by offering to women instant services and products, like fast-food, ‘two-minute’ snacks, and refrigerators and washing machines with supposedly better technologies. Women consumers have the responsibility of choosing products that are not just convenient but also safe to use and eco-friendly. They must evaluate the nutrition content of food products before buying them and weight their quality with traditional foods that are less-expensive, have better nutritional scores and consume less resources like packaging and transportation.
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