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Towards a Theory of Consumer Rights

By Jean Lukaz MIH Published on Monday September 19, 2011 Modern Ghana.com Never had I felt so stupid as a consumer advocate than the day the theory of ‘consumer rights’ was challenged at a conference for the fact that it lacked any legal basis in international law and in international relations. It occurred to me that either the consumer movement had got it wrong all this while or someone was wielding a powerful drilling tool, thereby reducing the issue of consumer rights to a complete nonsense upon stilts. The ‘consumer movement’ went to work immediately to debunk this argument by extracting from UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection, ILO provisions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which are not legally binding documents in international law. FLASHBACK: The moment the latter, bearing both first- and second-generation rights, was being translated into legally binding obligations, it was split into two separate treaties in 1966 [ratified in 1976] reflecting political and economic rights into the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The first of the treaties, being political in nature, consists merely of first-generation rights that did not require any resources to be provided for consumers to be able to enjoy them. The second treaty, second-generation in nature, bore less developed enforcement mechanisms for rights that cannot be guaranteed. These economic and social rights (second-generation rights) seemed to be blurring off in the business argument until the consumer movement attached governments as constituents of the Social Responsibility Standard, ISO 22000. These secondgeneration rights rather require the allocation or redistribution of resources and very often are not enshrined in state constitutions for fear of opening the floodgates to consumers. Only Communist Manifestos and Communist Constitutions go that far in enshrining social and economic rights. So what happened? The ISO Standard on Social responsibility (ISO 22000) was opening the floodgates for businesses to return to their thrones of ‘Caveat Emptor’. Strictly speaking, industry was invoking an old theoretical argument on the derivation of rights that suppose that the only proper use of the word ‘rights’ must be in relation to legal rights. In a like manner, they were asking Shakespeare to turn in his grave and rephrase some of his to ‘O consumer, where is thy sting?’ Burying my head into the question of rights led me to the issues of sovereignty, liberties, privileges, immunities and the ‘non-existent Constitutional Rights’ of consumers, a.k.a. consumer sovereignty.

socio-economic or collective right? What is a consumer right if has no associated responsibility in the exercise of it thereof? • • • • • • .• • • What is a consumer right if it does not impose duty on others and thereby making it less protected than it should be? What is a consumer right if it does not create liability in others? What is a consumer right if it does not grant immunity to consumers from being deprived of the essentials of life and tools of their trade upon which their very survival depend? What is a consumer right if it is all about liberties that are restricted by other right holders? What is a consumer right if the sovereignty of consumers is surrendered by their adhesion contract of citizenship that only guarantees them civil liberties as designed at will by the state at any point in time? What is a consumer right if none is wrong when they interfere with or restrict the exercise of it thereof? What is a consumer right if its application to the individual is restrained by advancing utilitarian arguments such as promoting the welfare of the majority? What is a consumer right if it is not a political.