Do Caribbean Tech Companies Care about Consumers Rights?

A discussion of the eight basic consumer rights and how they might be relevant to the Caribbean ICT/tech space.

Exactly a week ago today, 15 March, World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) was observed. Established in 1983, WRCD seeks “to promote the basic rights of all consumers, demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights” (Source:  Consumers International).

Today, the consumer movement has established eight basic rights, which not only guide the work of consumer interest agencies worldwide, but also provide a litmus test for countries to determine the extent to which their frameworks support consumers. Listed below are the eight basic rights, and for each one, there is a brief discussion on how that specific right could be applied, or could be relevant, in the Caribbean’s ICT/tech space.

The right to satisfaction of basic needs

This right is speaks to having access to basic, essential goods and services, which in today’s world, includes telecoms. Some countries have established Internet access as a basic right, consistent with their obligation to provide their citizens with access to electricity and potable water. In the Caribbean, that posture towards Internet access has not been formally adopted, but among policymakers, the emphasis has been shifting from mobile/cellular access, which is nearly ubiquitous in most countries, towards data and the Internet. However, the wherewithal to realise similar ubiquity in the Internet space has not been evident, and to date, there appears be be considerable reliance on the telecoms firms to drive and finance the needed programmes and initiatives.

The right to safety

Although the focus of this right is on protecting “consumers against products, production processes and services that are hazardous to health or life” (Source:  Consumers International), it applies to the tech space in ways such as following ways:

  • ensuring that devices, especially wireless ones, are safe for prolonged use, for example with respect to non-ionising radiation
  • Ensuring that devices are well designed and built, and for example, will not explode or catch fire, potentially causing injury to users, and
  • Being mindful in the placement of transmitting towers, again to reduce the effect of non-ionising radiation on individuals, especially children, in the environs.

The right to be informed

Essentially, consumers need to be given the facts in order to make informed decisions. While responsibility lies with product creators, along with product vendors and suppliers, to provide consumers with adequate and truthful information, frequently such a requirement can be at odds with the business maximising its sales and its profits. Hence there is the need for consumer protection agencies – to keep businesses honest, and to protect consumers from dishonest or misleading labelling, advertising and promotions.