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March 15 is an annual occasion for observing World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), with a purpose to show solidarity with the consumer movement. It is to promote the basic rights of consumers to demand their rights of being respected and protected.

It is also a day to highlight the abuse of consumer rights, unethical practices, lack of legislation and regulatory framework and to bring consumer interests in the fore nationally and internationally. The year 2006 marks the 24th commemoration of the World Consumer Rights Day. This day was first observed on March 15, 1983.

The eight consumer rights promoted on WCRD include, right to safety, information, choice, representation, redress, education, satisfaction and healthy environment. These eight rights form the basis for ongoing work by consumer groups world-wide and on WCRD, consumers, activists, organisations and democratic governments commemorate World Consumer Rights Day, focusing on a different issue of global and national interest each year.

The theme for 2006 is 'Energy: Sustainable access for all'. The day will be marked by world-wide campaign by consumer organisations, which would be lobbying to ensure that national governments and G8 ministers, get into action the recent declarations about the future of energy.

Globally the talks are about the security of energy delivery, whereas, the real issue for consumers is sustainable access. All consumers have a right to safe, affordable and sustainable energy, as well as a responsibility to act to protect the future of the planet.

Although it has been long recognised world-wide that energy is of fundamental importance for the consumers, based on the fact that it is one of the basic needs. But, till date this basic right has been denied and the world has failed to provide access to electricity to about two billion consumers.

In the meantime the impact of unsustainable consumption of energy and other resources is one of the biggest international challenges of the present time. Just to give an idea, how serious the challenge is, that at the start of the 21st century:

-- 56 % of the world's rural population without access to electricity.

-- 32 % of world-wide C02 emissions, on account of electricity.

-- In countries where less than five percent of the population is poor, per capita energy consumption is four times higher than in countries where more than 75 percent of the population lives under the poverty line.

-- Consumers must climb above the poverty line, but we need to consume more carefully, to protect both environment and security of supply for future generations.

-- We need to develop a viable service, which remains within the limits of consumer affordability and sustainable access.

Consumer organisations in Pakistan must ensure that the government, energy producers/regulators and consumers:

-- Reduce wasteful energy production and consumption patterns and promote sustainable alternative energy sources • Promote investment in renewable resources.

-- Reduce the use of traditional non-renewable sources of energy such as hydro-carbons, particularly wood from unsustainable forestry.

-- Promote the provision of loan facilities and micro-credit schemes to enable investment in sustainable energy technology.

-- Provide incentives for energy efficiency purposes.

-- Join hands and work towards implementation of mandatory targets for major, sustainable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, allocated in line with principles of global equity.

WCRD 2006, will be marked by consumer organisations around the world to lobbying and calling on governments to step up their efforts to work together with consumers to develop comprehensive sustainable energy plans which remain within the limits of consumer affordability. It needs to be turned into a global campaign day on energy. WCRD 2006 is about sustainable access for all and to ensure consumers voice is a part of the international debate on energy.

World Consumer Rights Day in Pakistan will be observed on local initiatives, planned and carried out by consumer organisations.

Consumers, though more and more self guarded, are still facing unavoidable threats. The market place is filled with fake and inferior products, supplemented by misleading advertisements, brand infringement and lack or non-existent regulatory mechanism with respect to quality and enforcement. Rampant corruption and lack of will in regulatory areas is one of the biggest hurdle in consumer protection.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2006

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