“If consumers are offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and the national interest suffers.”
– President John F. Kennedy (1962)
It has been 59 years since John F. Kennedy delivered the speech to strengthen consumer rights, which is now officially known worldwide as World Consumer Rights Day. Following the address, the late former president of the United States petitioned Congress to enact legislation that would protect the four fundamental rights that every consumer possesses:
This address would be known later as the Consumer Bill of Rights. The era of innovation and technological advancements has seen the rise of businesses that span across a wide range of industries and have seen an increase of consumers that benefit from these companies’ products. A consumer can be defined as a person who purchases a good or service intended for personal use. As per the economic law of supply and demand, the rise of businesses and the service industry has increased these resources’ consumption; therefore, it is pertinent for consumers to be protected against unfair or dishonest practices in the marketplace. Consumer protection is most often established by law. These laws ensure that businesses will not engage in fraud or unjust methods to gain an advantage over competitors or deceive consumers.
The UAE is a central hub for business in the Middle East; thus, the country has made excessive efforts to boost the economy by reducing fees for incorporating companies in the region and eased cross-border trade to reduce the cost of imports and to facilitate timely exports. Simultaneously, the UAE has taken several measures to protect consumer rights to maintain an ethically fair practice in the marketplace. The enactment of Federal Law Number 24 of 2006 of the Consumer Protection Law was established to protect consumer interests. The Ministry of Economics (MOE) has launched a Consumer Protection Department (CPD) for that purpose. The primary responsibilities of the CPD are to heighten consumer awareness of the goods and services consumed, monitor and control the prices, receive complaints by the consumers, and take necessary steps to solve consumer issues.
As per the Consumer Protection Law Number 24 of 2006, the fundamental rights a consumer has is laid out:
Article 16 of the consumer protection law states that a consumer is within his legal rights to receive compensation and sue the supplier regarding any personal or material damages that may occur upon them if their rights as a consumer are infringed. Additionally, Article 17 provides that the CPD are within their legal capacity to represent a consumer in Court or any authority that the law recognizes. The CPD will have the power to initiate a settlement regarding consumer protection, and 17 further stated that any objection about settlement decisions might be submitted to the minister.
The law has further given suppliers specific obligations and duties to protect the interests of the consumer. Under Article 5, the supplier is obligated to return or exchange the goods he provides if there are any defects uncovered by the consumer. In line with the consumer’s right to safety, Article 6 mentions that a supplier should not display, sell, advertise, or promote any product or service that may inflict harm or damage to the consumer’s health and interest. Similarly, the consumer’s right to know is honored by Article 7, which states that a supplier must provide relevant details on the cover or the package of the product they offer by adding a label containing information about the products’ type and nature, name, production and expiry dates, ingredients, country of origin, weight, and direction for use if available. It should also contain an additional attachment of a detailed list in Arabic. The supplier will be liable for any damages that resulted from the usage or consumption of the product, as mentioned in Article 9. It further states that a supplier will be liable if there is no product warranty, whether advertised or agreed upon with the consumer. Articles 12 and 13 further provide that the supplier is obligated to provide repairs, maintenance, or service of the product or goods after the sale is confirmed. They must provide a replacement in case a defect is found in the product within a specified period. Moreover, a supplier needs to report any defects discovered to the relevant authority if the fault found would cause harm in any manner to the consumer, as mentioned under Article 15. The Consumer Protection law has further laid out the penalties for those found in violation of the provision found in Article 18 and will incur a fine of at least AED 1,000. In the circumstance where a supplier or distributor has failed to mention or warn the consumers against any harm, they might get in consuming the product. If that harm has caused severe consumer damages, the penalty will not be less than AED 10,000.
Consumer Protection Under Sharia’a Law Article 7 of the UAE Constitution 1971 indicates that Islam is the Nation’s official religion, and Sharia’a Law will be the primary source of legislation in UAE. The Qur’an, along with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, has provided consumer rights and protection substantial attention concerning infringement of legal transactions for both the consumer or the supplier, as it allows for the credibility and transparency in negotiations between the parties involved. Islam is considered to be a religion that has impacted the relationship between traders and consumers, and Sharia’a law has provided a detailed structure to engage in business activities and provide protection for the rights of the consumer. Concerning economic activity in Sharia’a, it is essential to note that Islam stresses on ‘duties’ rather than an individual’s rights, which is a significant distinction with western or modern approaches regarding consumer regulations, which are more likely to focus on consumer rights. The insight behind this approach is that it is believed in Islam that if everyone fulfills their duties, the blind pursuit of self-interest is controlled, thus the rights of individuals will be protected. There are provisions in the verses of the Qur’an that urges individuals to focus on permissible (halal) types of trade and fair contracts. Additionally, some verses stress on avoiding forbidden transactions and avoid selling fake or inferior goods. Furthermore, Sharia’a law concentrates on the parties’ mutual consent, meaning that the law offers protection for consumers from the moment the formation of the contract occurs.
The verses preserved in the Quran confirms that for the formation of a contract to occur, there must be two (2) main conditions present:
(a) the mutual consent of the parties must be present,
(b) if there is any indication of fraud, pressure or misstatement by one party, the contract will be null and void directly.
Moreover, Sharia’a law has emphasized that the contract’s contents must be precise and clear for all the parties involved. If there is any fraud or misinterpretation involved, the consumer has the right to cancel the contract. It further encourages the parties to have one or more witnesses present when signing the contract rather than depending on a verbal agreement. Sharia’a provides provisions for monopolies as they believe that monopoly is a form of oppression and fraudulent sales and encourages an economic supervisory system to enforce adequate economic application and monitor the market and retailers.