Fair trade debate

The Fair Trading Commission (FTC) is concerned that Barbados doesn’t have a “vibrant” consumer protection body to agitate on the behalf of residents. But the head of the existing consumer protection body is accusing the FTC of not responding to concerns regarding unfair trade practices on the island, suggesting that there is really “no fair trade” in Barbados.

FTC chairman Sir Neville Nicholls and director general of the Barbados Consumers’ Research Organization (BCRO) Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt spoke about their concerns during the Commission’s 10th annual lecture at the Accra Beach Hotel on Friday. The topic was What is a Fair Trade? and Governor of the Central Bank DrDeLisle Worrell delivered the lecture.

Sir Neville said that if the public was to be protected from unfair trade practices then contribution from businesses and consumers were required.

While the commission has a very robust outreach educational programme for both businesses and consumers and the authority to determine complaints, make decisions on findings and issue directives, I firmly believe that it would be very useful to have a strong consumer rights body to provide assistance in effecting change,” he said, adding that companies should “come together to develop voluntary codes of practice”.

A voluntary code of practice will ensure that the consumer knows what to expect when there is a breach and the employee too is aware of how to deal with the breach,” said Sir Neville.

The commission, through the Consumer Protection Division, has been actively trying to get companies in selected sectors to establish voluntary codes, but it seems that after several meetings with stakeholders and the development of draft guidelines to assist in this process, progress is still quite slow,” he added.

During the question and answer segment consumer rights advocate Gibbs-Taitt said there was “no fair trade” in Barbados.

He suggested that a system be put in place that would allow residents to know the original price business owners pay for products that they imported in order to help consumers determine if the price they were paying would be considered “fair”.

We have a market place that cannot be described as fair by any speck of the imagination,” said Gibbs-Taitt.

He also questioned the work of the FTC, saying there were wide-spread unfair trade practices in Barbados that were not being adequately addressed.

The Consumer Protection Act clearly states what an advertiser must do. Yet I don’t know if the Fair Trading [Commission] is still working or not but if it is, I regret to say that they do nothing about the many times I have written to them and tell them about the people in Barbados who practice bad practices,” said Gibbs-Taitt.

In response, Dr Worrell would only say: “It is accepted there has to be underlined conditions, even when the market is successful, for the price to be fair. That is, there must be full information, there must be accurate information [and] the product must be what they say it is.”

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