The ideology came into full focus in the 1960s after President John F. Kennedy introduced the Consumer Bill of Rights, which stated that the consuming public has a right to be safe, to be informed, to choose, and to be heard.
Fuel was added to the fire in 1966 with the publication of Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed, which attacked portions of the automotive industry. When corruption of government officials in the Watergate scandal of the seventies, and inflation and widespread consumer disenchantment with the quality of many American products were combined with the greater sophistication brought about by consumer advocates, consumerism became a powerful, action-oriented movement. The primary concern of this force is to fulfill and protect the rights of consumers articulated by President Kennedy some four decades ago.
Consumerism is an addiction to satisfying one's needs through material things. Corporate power is rooted in consumerism because consumer demand now accounts for two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity. This syndrome has been reached partly because Americans are exposed to hundreds of advertisements each day, and from early age television and films have taught them to associate success with new and expensive items, as opposed to useful and practical items. It has taught all - products can replace healthy social contact with others. One conservative estimate has indicated that the average American uses 30 times the goods of an average third-world resident.
Although consumerism is commonly associated with the Western world, it is multi-cultural and non-geographical, as seen today in Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, Tel Aviv and Dubai, for example. Consumerism, as in people purchasing goods or consuming materials in excess of their basic needs, is as old as the first civilizations (see Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Ancient Rome, for example). Since consumerism began, various individuals and groups have consciously sought an alternative lifestyle through simple living.
While consumerism is not a new phenomenon, it has only become widespread over the 20th century and particularly in recent decades, under the influence of neo-liberal capitalism.
The need for Corporates to increase profits
In the ideal market envisioned by economists, there are few barriers to entry and there is considerable competition among sellers. Competition keeps profits at normal levels and properly allocates resources. Yet the largest corporations now dictate the direction of global business. One percent of all multinational corporations now own half the total stock of foreign direct investment. In short, a few of these corporations are consolidating their hold on the global economy. Allowing this kind of control over the global economy has dire effects on local economies. In both the U.S. and across the globe, many large corporations, either directly or through intermediaries, are obeying the implacable logic of capital by creating barriers to entry, stifling local economies, and racing to liquidate finite resources.
The Corporate Propaganda
People actually remember few ads, but they do have an effect. Their purpose is to manipulate us so that we consume goods or services with as little reflection as possible. Even if they fail to sell a product, they sell consumerism by appealing to our insecurities and reminding us there's a solution to a problem if we buy it. Other advertisements encourage us to buy their products to pursue the happiness and freedom we supposedly crave at the expense of community and family life.
How do I know that I've been affected?
- You wonder why your neighbours always need the latest status symbols
- You feel you're working harder for less compared to 10 years ago
- Film critics seem to be pushing big-budget films that you don't like
- Advertising seems to be out of control
- You wonder why the news constantly dodges "real" issues
- You or a friend have been laid off because of "downsizing"
What can I do ?
What can you do? It doesn't require a lot of time, money or effort. It's just adopting a few simple changes to your lifestyle from the list below. We can all make a difference!
Adopt voluntary simplicity. This involves finding a new balance in life between the "old days" and your neighbours' mindless consumerism.
Avoid multinationals. Avoid national retail and food chains, and shop instead at locally-owned stores or local chains. You may pay a little higher, but your money will be better spent.
Choose products you wish others would buy. It starts with you. Skip products with excess packaging. Choose organic vegetables and fruits at the grocery store. And try to let the store know your views (a fax is quick and non-confrontational).
Research. If you invest, research corporations you invest in. Unethical multinationals should be avoided.
Don't buy into marketing. Instead of pacifying your child with the latest marketing gimmick, find clever toys that will provide hours of fun over the long run.
Mass transit. Adoption of mass transit is a key to ending the influence of corporate power. If you think you could use mass transit, demand it from your local representatives. Don't take no for an answer.
Circumvent advertising. Make unyielding use of your television mute button during commercial breaks. (Why won't they make a video mute or a timed mute?)
Eliminate debt. Eliminate all unnecessary credit cards, which encourage indebtedness and consumption beyond one's means. Use ATM cards where possible (debit cards carry more risks with theft than credit cards do).
Education. On your web site, spout off on consumerism and corporate power. Tell others. Word of mouth really works.
Support "Buy Nothing Day". The next day is on November 26, See Adbusters for this and great posters to spread the word. It may not put a dent in corporate earnings, but it will certainly raise awareness.
Discover the outdoors. Satisfaction doesn't have to come from products, programming, or services. Spend your weekends biking, hiking, or fishing.
Some of the earliest consumer-protection laws were created to prevent the sale of tainted food and harmful drugs. The U.S. consumer protection movement gained strength in the 1960s and '70s as consumer activists led by Ralph Nader lobbied for laws setting safety standards for automobiles, toys, and numerous household products. Consumer advocates have also won passage of laws obliging advertisers to represent their goods truthfully and preventing sales representatives from using deceptive sales tactics. Consumer advocacy is carried on worldwide by the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU).
By "consumerism" we mean the process of realising the rights of the consumer as envisaged in any Consumer Protection Act and ensuring right standards for the goods and services for which one makes a payment.
Increasing consumer awareness and lending more teeth to consumer protection act, has made manufacturers, traders and service providers conscious of quality in a liberalized market-driven economy. This has also made them more competitive in global trade.
Consumer Protection in India
The issues relating to consumer welfare affects an entire population since everyone is a consumer in one way or the other. Ensuring consumer welfare is thus the responsibility of the government. The Department of Consumer Affairs was created in India to exclusively focus on protecting the rights of consumers, redressal of consumer grievances and to promote standards of goods and services. Accepting this, policies have been framed and the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, was introduced.
A separate Department of Consumer Affairs was also created in the Central and State Governments to exclusively focus on ensuring the rights of consumers as enshrined in the Act. This Act has been regarded as the most progressive, comprehensive and unique piece of legislation.
One of the most important milestones in the area of consumer protection in India is the enactment of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002.
The Consumer Protection Act applies to all goods and services and covers all persons and all sectors; private, public or cooperative. The Act enshrines: Right to be protected against marketing goods and providing services, which are hazardous to life and property; Right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices; Right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices; Right to be heard and to be assured that consumers’ interests will receive due consideration at appropriate fora; Right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and Right to consumer education.
To provide simple, speedy and inexpensive redressal to consumer grievances under the Act, a 3-tier quasi-judicial machinery popularly known as the consumer courts have been set up at national, state and district levels. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) referred to as National Commission is the apex consumer redressal forum and is located in New Delhi. Each state has a Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission known as the State Commission. The National Commission and the State Commissions can constitute a bench with one or more members and can also hold circuit benches for deciding consumer cases. Similarly, every district in the country has a Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum known as the District Forum. There is a nominal court fee required to be paid for filing a complaint before a District Forum, the State Commission or the National Commission by an aggrieved consumer. There is a provision for appeals in higher forums and an appeal against the orders of the
National Commission could be filed with Supreme Court within a period of 30 days from the date of the order.
In terms of the Consumer protection Act, Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies have been set up at the district, State and National level, comprising 607 District Fora, 35 State Commissions & the National Commission as the Apex body, to provide simple, inexpensive and time bound justice to the consumer complaints against defective goods, deficient services including the unfair/trade practices adopted by the traders or any person.
The Department uses print and electronic media for creating consumer awareness. Further, programmes have also been organized, in consultation with song and drama division, to spread consumer awareness message to the rural masses in their vernacular languages. A special campaign has also been conceived for north eastern region for spreading consumer awareness messages through musical concerts.
Monitoring – Prices of Essential Commodities
The Price Monitoring Cell (PMC), which was set up after the abnormal rise in prices of essential commodities like onion and pulses in 1998, is entrusted, inter-alia, with the task of monitoring of the prices and availability of essential commodities in the country. It regularly monitors on a daily basis the retail prices of 14 essential commodities, viz., rice, wheat, atta, gram, tur /arhar, tea, milk, sugar, vanaspati, mustard oil, groundnut oil, potato, onion and salt. For monitoring of prices, information on daily retail prices of 14 essential commodities from 18 centres and wholesale prices on weekly basis from 37 centres spread all over the country are collected through the Civil Supplies Departments of State Governments /UT Administrations. From July 2006, nine additional centres have been included in the Daily Price Report.
The retail prices of essential commodities are updated daily in the website of the Department of Consumer Affairs: http://fcamin.nic.in.
Forward Trading and Forward Markets Commission
Forward Markets Commission (FMC) is a statutory body set up under the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1952 (FCR Act) and functions under the administrative Control of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. The FMC regulates forward markets in commodities through the recognized associations, recommends to the Government the grant / withdrawal of recognition to the associations organizing forward trading in commodities and makes recommendations for the general improvement of the functioning of forward markets in the country.
At present, there are 24 Commodity Futures Exchanges including three ‘national level’ Exchanges, which have been recognized under FCR Act for conducting futures / forward trading in India. All the commodities have been permitted for futures trading since 2003. Recently, few non-conventional commodities like Crude oil, Polymers, Electricity etc have also been brought under the purview of Section 15 of the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1952.
Bureau of Indian Standards
Bureau of Indian Standards is a National Standards Body involved in operation of Product Certification Scheme for use of ISI Mark on a large number of products depicting that products thus marked conforms to the relevant Indian Standards. BIS is engaged in formulation of Indian Standards for 14 sectors namely Chemicals, Food and Agriculture, Civil, Electrical, Electronics & Telecommunications and Information Technology, Mechanical Engineering, Management & Systems, Metallurgical Engineering, Petroleum Coal & related Products, Medical and Hospital Planning, Textile, Transport engineering and Production and General Engineering, Water Resources under Fourteen Division Councils which have 302 Sectional committees working under them. Initially in 1947, the erstwhile ISI started with two broad divisions namely Textiles and Engineering which has now grown to the current strength.
BIS is operating a Certification Marks Scheme for more than five decades. Hallmarking Scheme of Gold Jewellery was launched in April 2000 to protect consumer against victimization due to irregular gold quality, develop export competitiveness and make India as a leading gold market centre in the World. The scheme voluntary in nature is operated under BIS Act 1986 through BIS network of Regional and Branch offices all across the country.
In the last international conference on consumer protection held in Malaysia in 1997, the Indian Consumer Protection Act was described as one "which has set in motion a revolution in the fields of consumer rights, the parallel of which has not been seen anywhere else in the world."
The success of "consumerism" is a strong function of consumer awareness and the assistance the movement gets from the government. The consumer movement got a boost and moral support from the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the historic declaration in Congress on March 15, 1962, declaring four basic consumer rights (choice, information, safety and the right to be heard). Subsequently, March 15 every year is celebrated as World Consumer Rights Day.