WORLD Consumer Rights marked on March 15 every year is an important day in the calendar of consumer advocates and consumer organisations.
It is a day marked by the global consumer movement where campaigns on critical and emerging consumer issues are often launched and placed on the national and international agenda.
WCRD 2013 will be marked with the theme, 'Consumer Justice Now'. The council, through this column, will be highlighting various real life cases of consumer injustices in Fiji including present gaps in consumer protection.
These cases provide part of the body of evidence that is motivating the Consumer Council to call for consumer justice now! These case studies are a tip-of-the-iceberg in terms of what Fijian consumers are facing today.
Case study: Hair treatment gone wrong
To look appealing and feel good about it is the desire of every individual. Beauty is known for instilling confidence in some, while for others it is about pampering one's self.
But what happens when this desire turns into a 'beauty and beast' nightmare and the consumer ends up paying a hefty price?
It's no fairy-tale, but a real life experience for a young consumer who had only trusted a service provider to do her job diligently.
Miss Tilley, a young student visited a popular hair salon in Suva to give herself a new look. She paid $100 for permanent hair straightening service.
She was not put through any consultation prior to the treatment. Miss Tilley was also left unattended by her hairdresser on several occasions during the treatment.
To her shock and dismay, things turned out to be very sour. Clumps of her hair began to fall when her heavily soaked hair with chemicals was being washed after being in the steamer for an hour.
Miss Tilley could not believe what was happening despite several attempts by the hairdresser to arrest the problem.
In a panicking mood with a fear of losing all her hair, she left the salon without proceeding for further hair straightening steps.
The young student describes the incident as the scariest moment in her life as she is going through mental, emotional and psychological trauma wondering if she will ever get back to normal.
She lodged a complaint with the council. The council tried to mediate on her behalf but the service provider blatantly denied all allegations and was not prepared to believe or understand Tilley's story at all although it was backed with all necessary evidence including expert's advice on her condition.
No mercy was shown by the service provider to rectify her plea for justice. Instead the hair salon defended its hairdresser who had neglected her duties by not giving full attention to the customer.
The case was referred to Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) but the referee referred the case to court. In order to get justice, Miss Tilley would have to pay hefty legal fees that she cannot afford.
She is just a student with no source of income for a court battle which is not only time consuming but also expensive.
Hence, the question is how can ordinary consumers such as Ms Tilley get justice?
It is sad but a fact that an ordinary consumer when faced with such situation is made to suffer and in the end is left with no option but to accept defeat and move on.
What we need is an effective and speedy redress system in place that looks at the plight of consumers only. Consumer Complaints Tribunal (CCT) as proposed by the council can be seen as a solution where compensation is also awarded.
Complaints of the value not exceeding $5000 can be filed with SCT while complaints with a monetary value exceeding $5000 could be lodged at the CCT.
* This is the first of a weekly series of articles by the Consumer Council of Fiji in the build-up to World Consumer Rights Day 2013. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.