Consumer Protection: Overview of the Legal Framework

Responsible governance needs to address the interest and concerns of consumers by protecting them from market abuses. The protection is made through various regulatory frameworks and institutional establishments peculiar to the specific situation of each country and market situation. The right of consumers has long been recognized by the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection and member of countries are encouraged and advised to have their own domestic law to regulate consumer rights. Accordingly many countries work to regulate the right of their consumers through various legal and institutional arrangements. The international organization named Consumer International has also been the focal international organization to promote consumer’s rights and the protection to be accorded.

Consumer Protection: Contextual Issues
In 2013, Ethiopia enacted Proclamation No. 813/2013 as a recognition and commitment to the protection of the rights of consumers. The purpose of this proclamation was to regulate trade competition and consumer protection. Named as trade practice, trade competition was regulated earlier by the Trade Practice Proclamation No. 329/ 2003.
Consumers are protected not only by a law further detailed in a single proclamation, but also by various bodies of law including the general laws of contract, parts of the commercial code, the advertisement and media law, the criminal code, laws on food and drug control and inspection, trade registration laws, laws regulating standard and quality.
Though its basic purpose is regulating the competition aspect of business, the competition law also serves the purpose of consumer protection for any unregulated and unhealthy business competition that affects the interest of consumers. Such cases in business as monopoly, price hike, in accessibility of consumer items and services, compromise on quality of products and services ultimately affect the consumer.
Though its consumer protection aspect is not highly sensitized as some other African countries, banking laws, insurance laws and telecom regulations are also among the growing aspects of consumer protection laws for the growth in the use of mobile banking, credit facilities from banks, telecom services that trigger consumer centered concerns.
Transparency in the service charges of mobile banking, interest calculation for loans, problems in the telecom services are globally emerging consumer concerns. These concerns will definitely be shared by Ethiopian consumers in the future. Though various laws have their own aspects of consumer protection, it is common that the rights of consumers and their protection mechanism, however, are regulated in a separate law. Accordingly, Ethiopia has enacted a proclamation necessary to regulate consumers’ right and put in place the institutional and the enforcement mechanism.

Basic Aspects of the Right
The consumer protection law has listed the type of rights of consumers. This includes the right to get information about the type and quality of goods and services one purchases, the right to buy on the persons own choice, the right not to be obliged to buy for the reasons other than that he looked into the quality or options of goods and services or made price bargain, the right not to be mistreated by the business person and the right to claim for damages suffered because of the purchase or use of the goods or services. A contract made between the consumer and the business that provide for the waiver of rights vested in the benefit of the consumer is not affected by this law.
Though consumers have some rights such as the right to claim damage based on their contract and extra contractual liability laws, the recognition of the right by a specific legal instrument dedicated for regulating the nature and scope of the rights of consumers is in line with the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
Basic issues that are believed to best serve the interest of consumers in the process of transaction are also regulated by the law. Though they do not make it as a matter of marketing culture, business persons should display the price of goods and services inclusive of legal fees and taxes by posting such list in a conspicuous place in his business premises or by affixing price tags on the goods.
Labels of goods are also very important information component for consumers. Accordingly, the law obliges the business person to provide to the consumer labels of goods which indicates the name of the goods, country of manufacturing, the gross and net weight and quality of the goods and other list of details as may be appropriate. Despite the seriousness of the law, the actual market culture lags behind the legal stipulations to be adhered concerning labeling.
Issuance of receipt and commercials are also another issues for regulation. One of the instruments used to abuse the right and interest of consumers is through advertisements. That’s why the law stipulated that commercial advertisements about goods and services should not be false or misleading. To that effect, consumer protection authorities of some counties like Egypt seriously monitor the content of advertisements.

Defects in Goods and Services
For intentional or unintentional reasons, defective goods and services are market realities in many countries. That is why they are challenges in the protection of consumers’ rights. Though it is not a common litigation type, most of the litigations and court cases related with consumer rights in many developed countries are liability claims for defective products and services. In Ethiopia’s case, in addition to the right of reporting to the relevant government authority, the law has entitled the consumer to replace the goods or refund the price paid within 15 days of the date of purchase and to have same right to services. The consumer has also the right to claim compensation for any damage resulting from the use of the defective goods and services.

Prohibited Acts
The law prohibits furnishing false information, failure to disclose the model of goods, misleading description of goods and services of another business person, failure to sell goods and services as advertised, making false or misleading statements of price reduction, pyramid scheme of sales, committing any fraudulent or confusing act in any transaction of goods and services and other unfair business acts.

5th Year • July 2017 • No. 52

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